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The Golden Ass 


APULEIUS (we do not know his other names) was born about AD 125 in 
Madaura or Madauros, a Roman colony in North Africa, now 
Mdaourouch in Algeria. His father, from whom he inherited a substantial 
fortune, was one of the two chief magistrates (duouiri) of the city. For his 
education Apuleius was sent first to Carthage, the capital of Roman 
North Africa, and then to Athens. During his time abroad he travelled 
widely, spending some time in Rome, where he practised as a pleader in 
the courts. While detained by illness on his way home at Oea in Tripoli, 
he met and married the wealthy widow Pudentilla. This was at the 
instance of one of her sons, whom he had known at Rome; but other 
members of her family objected to the marriage and prosecuted Apuleius 
on various charges, principally that of winning Pudentilla’s affections by 
magic. Their accusations were brilliantly, and it would seem successfully, 
rebutted in his speech De Magia or Apology, delivered in or shortly 
before AD 160. He appears to have spent the rest of his life in Carthage, 
where he became a notable public figure, holding the chief priesthood of 
the province and receiving other public honours. 

The age in which Apuleius lived was that of the Antonine emperors 
Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, described by his contemporary the 
Greek sophist Aelius Aristides in his oration To Rome as a period of 
unexampled prosperity and felicity, a verdict echoed by Gibbon in the 
opening chapters of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman 
Empire. It was an age in which success in public speaking offered a 
passport to fame, and Apuleius owed his contemporary reputation to the 
mastery of language deployed both in his many display speeches, of 
which we have excerpted specimens in his Florida, and in the 
Neoplatonic philosophical writings which earned him a statue in his 
native city. Of these the most important which survive are On the God of 
Socrates (De Deo Socratis) and On Plato and his Doctrine (De Platone et 
eius Dogmate). An imposing range of other writings in both prose and 
verse we know of only from fragments and references in other authors. 
The modern world knows him best as the author of the great serio-comic 
novel The Golden Ass or Transformations (Metamorphoses), which he is 
generally thought to have written after his return to Carthage. He 
probably died about AD 180. 

E. J. KENNEY is Emeritus Kennedy Professor of Latin in the University of 
Cambridge. He was born in 1924 and was educated at Christ’s Hospital 
and Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he was Scholar and Fellow. In 
the Second World War he served in the Royal Signals in the United 
Kingdom and India, being commissioned in 1944. From 1953 to 1991 he 
was a Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, where at various times he held 

the offices of Director of Studies in Classics, Senior Tutor, Librarian and 
Domestic Bursar. His publications include a critical edition of Ovid’s 
amatory works (1961; second edition, 1995) and editions with 
commentary of Lucretius’ De rerum natura III (1971), Apuleius’ Cupid 
and Psyche (1990) and Ovid’s Heroides XVI-XXI (1996); and he is 
currently preparing a commentary on Books VII-IX of Ovid’s 
Metamorphoses, to appear in a five-volume edition of the entire poem. In 
1968 he was Sather Professor of Classical Literature at the University of 
California at Berkeley; his lectures were published in 1974 as The 
Classical Text (Italian translation, 1995). He is a Fellow of the British 
Academy and a Foreign Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of 
Arts and Sciences. He is a past President of the Joint Association of 
Classical Teachers and of the Classical Association, and is currently 
President of The Horatian Society. 


The Golden Ass 
or Metamorphoses 

Translated with an Introduction and Notes by 



Published by the Penguin Group 

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First published 1998 
Reprinted with revisions 2004 

Copyright © E. J. Kenney, 1998, 2004 
All rights reserved 

The moral right of the translator has been asserted 

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject 
to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, 
re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s 
prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in 
which it is published and without a similar condition including this 
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser 

EISBN: 978-0-141-90450-4 





Further Reading 

A Note on the Text 






map 6 




Appendix: The Onos and The Golden Ass 

A Note on Money 




For various advice and information generously given I am indebted to Dr 
James Carleton Paget, Dr Gillian Clark, Professor John Crook and Dr 
Emily Gowers. 

My most fundamental debt, however, is a very old one, to the framers 
of the Cambridge Classical Tripos as it was in 1946-8. In those days Part I 
had no syllabus of prescribed texts, and its unstructured character 
encouraged the discursive exploration of Greek and Latin literature. 
Unprompted, I then first read The Golden Ass, as its author intended, for 
pleasure; a pleasure which, half a century later, it has been a delight to 
renew, and which I hope this translation may help a new generation of 
readers to share. 




S. Homblower and A. Spawforth (eds.). The 
Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edn. (Oxford, 

P. G. W. Glare (ed.), Oxford Latin Dictionary 
(Oxford, 1982). 


Apuleius is the most whimsical of authors and is a law to himself. H. E. 

... the [Golden Ass] is a puzzle, J. J. WINKLER 

Apuleius is determined to confuse us. M. GRANT 



What is conventionally termed the Prologue to The Golden Ass ends with 
an apparently straightforward promise of entertainment in store. Lector, 
intende: laetaberis - ‘Give me your ear, reader: you will enjoy yourself.’ 
That promise is amply fulfilled. This is the most continuously and 
accessibly amusing book that has come down to us from classical 
antiquity. But in The Golden Ass appearances more often than not turn 
out to be deceptive, and there is a good deal more in this short Prologue 
than immediately meets the eye. 

The two words intende: laetaberis are more suggestive than they 
seem. Intendo connotes directed effort; the reader is to be intentus, 

attentive, serious, switched on. The coordinate structure of the Latin 
phrase stands, as often, for a conditional clause: if you give your mind to 
what follows, you will be made happy. The implication is that the 
amount, and possibly the quality, of the reader’s enjoyment will depend 
on the degree of attention brought to bear on the book. What has 
preceded, however, is calculated to puzzle the really attentive reader. The 
Prologue begins with an address to some unidentified person in a chatty 
and informal style suggesting a conversation already in progress: ‘Now (to 
get down to business), what I am going to do...’. First we are promised ‘a 
series of different stories’ strung together in a ‘Milesian discourse’. This 
points to a collection of tales of the kind associated with Aristides of 
Miletus (fL c. 100 BC): anecdotes, more often than not scabrous, culled 
from the illimitable subliterary repertoire of traditional popular 
storytelling and embellished for an educated audience. This class of 
literature was not considered edifying. After the battle of Carrhae in 53 Be 
the victorious Parthians were, or affected to be, scandalized by the 
discovery of Aristides’ Milesiaca in the baggage of the defeated Roman 
army (Plutarch, Life ofCrassus, 32). According to the author of the Ufe of 
Clodius Albinus in the Historia Augusta, that emperor was criticized for 
frittering away his time on ‘his countryman Apuleius’ Milesian stories 
and other literary trivialities’ ( Historia Augusta, 12. 12. 12). This is 

‘amusing gossip’, which will ‘charm the ear’. However, this anodyne 

programme is immediately qualified by the following request not to 
’scorn’ Egyptian paper written on with a sharp pen from the Nile. These 
disparate stories, it seems, have some sort of Egyptian flavour and are in 
some way pointed (see 1.1 and note). Moreover, they have after all a 
common theme, metamorphosis, transformation of men’s shapes and 

At this point a voice is heard asking Quis ille?, ‘Who is this?’ We may 
well retort the question: who is supposed to be asking it? The writer 
himself, anticipating the reader’s curiosity? The reader, in words put into 
his mouth by the writer? A third party? The possibilities, given more 
particularly that ancient scribal conventions knew nothing of quotation 
marks and such devices, shade into one another: the blurring of identities 
which so much preoccupies critics of The Golden Ass has begun. The 
answer to the question is not altogether precise. Corinth, Athens, and 
Sparta together make up the speaker’s ‘ancient ancestry’, but their 
respective parts in his formation only emerge later (1.1 and note). The 
verb used to describe his Latin studies at Rome is ambiguous: excolui can 

mean, not merely ‘cultivated’, but ‘developed’, ‘improved’, ‘adorned’. 
Such apologies for insufficiency prefacing a book or a speech are 
commonly disingenuous, as the following comparison with the trick- 
rider shows this one to be. This collection of stories, it is insinuated, is to 
be a stylistic tour deforce by a Greek who can teach native Romans a 
thing or two about how to handle their own language. 

But one more surprise is in store. In two crisp words we learn that 
what is about to unfold is a single tale, fabulam Graecanicam, ‘a Grecian 
story’. It seems that after all this is not some sort of anthology of 

anecdotes, but one story translated or adapted from a single Greek 
original. The reader is for the time being left to wonder - and wonder has 
been promised as well as pleasure - about this apparent discrepancy. 
That will eventually be resolved when The Golden Ass turns out to be 
both these things. For the surprise that is ultimately in store not even the 
most attentive of first-time readers can have been prepared. Clairvoyance 
rather than concentration would have been needed to foresee that. 


We have not long to wait for the first of the promised metamorphoses. 
The figure of the author, manipulating with almost insolent assurance his 
diverse literary materials and the two languages of which he is self- 
proclaimed master, now fades into and is lost in that of a narrator, the 
hero of the fabula Graecanica - the plaything of Fortune, the slave of his 
passions, controlled by the events of the story which as author he had 

purported to control. He identifies himself as one Lucius - though his 

name is only revealed casually towards the end of book l 8 - a young man 
of good provincial family from Corinth, on his way when the story opens 
to Thessaly ‘on particular business’. This proves to be an obsessive 
interest in witchcraft (for which Thessaly was famous); and it turns out 
that his hostess at Hypata, where he is bound with letters of 
introduction, is a renowned sorceress. With the help of her maid Photis 
he obtains access to her devil’s smithy, where by mischance he is 
changed, not as planned into a bird, but into a donkey. Before he can get 
at the antidote to the spell, which is to eat some roses, he is carried off by 
a gang of robbers; and the tale of his ensuing adventures, misadventures, 
and narrow escapes from death as he passes from one owner to another 
takes up the rest of the first ten books of the novel. 

The narrative is bulked out by stories heard by Lucius both before 
and after his metamorphosis, making up some sixty per cent of the text 
of books 1 - 10. This is the ‘Milesian’ element heralded in the Prologue, 
but an attentive reader will perceive that there is more to it than 
‘amusing gossip’, though that is how Lucius himself invariably accepts 
it. These stories are clearly intended to form an integral part of the 
literary structure of the book, providing what is in effect a commentary 
on the experiences, sufferings, and final deliverance of the hero. Their 
allegorical character (using the word in its broadest sense) is most 
obviously evident in the tale of Cupid and Psyche, set off from the rest by 
its length, elaborate literary texture, and central placing in the narrative 

framework (4.28-6.24). This is yet another surprise: the implicit 
undertaking to combine ‘different stories’ and a single ‘Grecian story’ is 
fulfilled in a way which their separate mention at the two extremes of 
the Prologue could hardly have led any reader, however attentive, to 


In order to tell his story, Lucius must survive his adventures and regain 
his human shape. It required no excessive ingenuity on the author’s part 
to contrive a plausible opportunity for him to find the prescribed 
remedy, for by the end of book 10 it is once more spring and roses are 
available. It is now that events take the most startling turn of all. With the 
last of his series of owners Lucius has apparently fallen on his feet. 
Thiasus (‘Mr Revel’) discovers by chance that this ass of his possesses 
almost human tastes and intelligence, and ‘trains’ him to display his 
capabilities in public. A rich woman falls in love with him and bribes his 
keeper to allow her to spend a night with him. This is a great success, 
and when Thiasus gets wind of it he decides to exhibit Lucius in the role 
of lover in the games he is about to hold at Corinth. On learning of this 
and of the atrocious crimes of the woman who is to be his partner in the 

spectacle, Lucius despairs. Confronted with what he sees as the ultimate 
in degradation and fearing, reasonably enough, that the beasts in the arena 
are unlikely to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty parties, he 
decides to make a break for freedom. He escapes and prepares to spend 
the night on the seashore a few miles from Corinth. So ends book 10, 
with the hero in a state of physical and spiritual prostration. 

To him at this nadir of his fortunes rescue now comes, in a way that 
the most percipient and attentive reader could not have guessed. He 
suddenly awakes from sleep to see the full moon rising in all her 
unearthly brilliance from the sea, and prays to her for deliverance. 

Nothing has prepared the reader for his instant conviction that here is 
his salvation, that she - invoked simultaneously as Ceres, Venus, Diana, 
and Proserpine-is the supreme governing power of the universe and that 
she and she alone can save him. This unexplained revelation comes, as is 
the nature of revelation, out of the blue. The goddess answers his prayer, 
not in any of the guises under which he has invoked her, but in one that 
subsumes and transcends them all. After enumerating the names under 
which she is worshipped throughout the world, she discloses her real 
identity: Isis, truly venerated under that name in Egypt - and the mind of 
the reader is immediately transported back to the mysterious hints in the 

Prologue. She promises him release from his sufferings and gives him 
exact instructions for achieving it: in return he is to devote the rest of his 
life to her service. 

All goes according to plan. Lucius is duly restored to human shape, 
receives a public lecture from Isis’ priest on the significance of what has 
happened to him, and is initiated into the cult of the goddess. He moves 
to Rome, undergoes further initiations, and the end of the story finds him 
an apparently respectable member of society, simultaneously pursuing a 
secular career as a successful barrister and following a religious vocation 
as a shaven-headed official of an ancient priestly college. The emergence 
of the story into the light of common day finally reveals the nature and 
purpose of the over-arching metamorphosis from which The Golden Ass 
itself has emerged, and, so to say, gives the literary game away. Lucius 
has turned out to be a mask for the author himself, his story taken over, 
as will appear (below, §4), and allegorically transformed so as to 
illuminate an (ostensibly) actual spiritual experience, just as centrally 
within the book the tale of Cupid and Psyche is taken over and 
transformed to illuminate his own fictional case (see below, §9). The 
distinctly prosaic note on which the book ends, anticlimactic as it may 
seem after the excitements that have preceded, is functionally motivated, 
a deliberate underlining of the author’s intentions. 

Nevertheless the sense of anticlimax continues to nag. The first fifteen 
chapters of book 11 constitute the longest sequence of consistently 
elevated writing in the novel, writing as brilliant and compelling as 
anything in Latin literature. That glory of revelation and rebirth tails off 
into a workaday account of successive initiations and the shifts to which 
Lucius has to resort to meet the necessary expenses. The demands of God 
and Mammon, however, are finally reconciled when, under the special 
protection of Osiris, he is enabled to work up a flourishing legal practice. 
And so, to adapt the famous though possibly apocryphal dictum of 
Thomas Gaisford, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, we see that ‘the 
advantages of serving Isis and Osiris are twofold - it enables us to look 

down with contempt on those who have not shared its advantages, and 
also fits us for places of emolument not only in this world, but in that 
which is to come’. Is this really what Isis meant when she prophesied 
that under her protection Lucius would ‘live gloriously’ (11.6)? 


A book which began by seemingly promising nothing but entertainment, 
with only the faintest of hints that some reading between the lines might 
be required, has abruptly, and without anything that can reasonably be 
called warning, modulated at its end into fervent religiosity tempered by 
meritocratic self-satisfaction. To some critics book 11 has seemed too 
loosely attached thematically to the first ten, and too sharply contrasted 
with them in tone and feeling, for The Golden Ass to be convincingly 
defended as an integrated literary whole. A work in eleven books is in 
itself an anomaly: the preference was for even numbers or multiples of 
five. The author could perfectly well have incorporated the ‘extra’ 
element in a ten-book structure; the ‘Isis-Book’ draws attention to itself 
by being, literally, extraordinary, extra ordinem. Ideally the problem 
ought perhaps to be tackled without reference to anything but the book 
as we have it. That view is expressed robustly by George Saintsbury: 

Origins... and indebtedness and the like, are, when great work is 
concerned, questions for the study and the lecture-room, for the literary 
historian and the professional critic, rather than for the reader, however 
intelligent and alert, who wishes to enjoy a masterpiece, and is content 

simply to enjoy it. 

However, in this case it happens that, whether fortunately or 
unfortunately, we do possess a good deal of information external to The 
Golden Ass, both as to its author and as to its sources, models, and literary 
congeners. This is something we can hardly affect to ignore. In attempting 
to arrive at a proper appreciation of the author’s genius and the merits 
and failings of his creation, and of what it has to say to us, that material 

cannot be left out of account, even if examination of it raises more 
questions than it answers. 

The Milesian element in The Golden Ass is referred to twice in the 
book, once, as we have seen, in the Prologue, and again in a facetious 
authorial apology for reporting an oracle of Apollo in Latin verse. This 
latter allusion, however, is opportunism of a kind one soon learns to 
recognize, prompted by the fact that the oracle in question is the one at 
Miletus (4.32 and note). There is nothing remotely Milesian about the 
story of Cupid and Psyche. The fabula Graecanica we can identify. 
Transmitted among the works of the Greek satirist Lucian (fi . c. AD 165) 
is a piece entitled ‘Lucius or the Ass’ ( Loukios e Onos; henceforth Onos ). 
This is a first-person narrative by one Lucius, who is changed into an ass 
by a spell which miscarries and after various adventures is changed back 
again: a version of our story lacking certain episodes, most notably that of 
the Festival of Laughter, the stories heard or reported by Lucius, Cupid 
and Psyche, and the Isiac sequel. The close correspondences between The 
Golden Ass and the Onos leave no room for doubt that they derive from a 
common original (see Appendix). What this was we learn from the 
Bibliotheca of the Byzantine scholar Photius (c. AD 850), who records 
having read both the Onos and another book distinct from it called 
‘Various tales (or books) of Metamorphosis by Lucius of Patrae’. Photius’ 
testimony, when critically examined, is less precise than might be 
wished, but there is general agreement that 

(i) The Golden Ass is an adaptation and the Onos an abridgement of that 
lost work (henceforth Met.). 

(ii) The Onos is not, as it stands, the work of Lucian. 

(iii) The ascription of Met. to ‘Lucius of Patrae’ is due to confusion on 
Photius’ part between author and fictional narrator. 

(iv) Met. may have been by Lucian, though several other candidates have 
been proposed. 

(v) Most or all of the material in The Golden Ass that does not figure in 
the Onos did not figure in Met. either. It is hardly conceivable that Cupid 
and Psyche can have done. 

The chief question mark is that hanging over book 11 of The Golden 
Ass and Lucius’ ‘conversion’. In the Onos Lucius, now restored to human 
shape, again presents himself to the lady whose favours he had enjoyed 
as an ass and is humiliatingly rebuffed because his genital equipment no 
longer measures up to her requirements. Some have thought that this 
broadly farcical denouement has replaced an original ending on a more 
serious note which served as model or inspiration for book 11 of The 

Golden Ass. There is little evidence either for or against this hypothesis, 
which is a good example of the type of explanation to which scholars 
resort from an ingrained reluctance to believe that any classical writer 
ever thought of anything for himself. There is no solid reason to withhold 
from our author the credit of originality as regards the way in which he 
chose to round off his book. Whether the result of combining this and the 
other disparate elements - the cautionary tales and Milesian stories, 
Cupid and Psyche, and the rest - in the framework of the ass-narrative 
can be considered successful is another matter. Certainly the whole 
undertaking was an ambitious one, like nothing else in the way of prose 
fiction that has survived from classical antiquity. 


Most readers probably feel that down to the end of book 10 the story 
hangs together well enough. Though loose ends and minor inconsistencies 

abound, where the author has not taken sufficient pains to dovetail the 
added material into the original fabric, the reader is irresistibly carried 
along by the sweep of the narrative and the narratives within the 
narrative. This is the secret of the classic novel, 

the trick of maintaining an even flow of narration, steadily moving on no 
matter how thick and rich it may be. If a man can do this instinctively - 
and, let me add, very few men can - then God intended him to be a 


There is no doubt that God intended the author of The Golden Ass to be a 
novelist. The book is indeed ‘thick and rich’ with interwoven matter, but 
the weaving is done with skill and elan. This is particularly evident in 
what has been called the ‘Chari te-comp lex’ (4.23-8.14), in which the 
fates of Charite and Tlepolemus, Cupid and Psyche, and Lucius himself 

are integrated into a complex counterpoint. It is only now and then, as 
in the case of the tale of the delinquent slave (8.22), that a story is 
casually tossed in simply because it seemed too good to lose. In general 
the inserted stories and episodes significantly reinforce and illustrate the 
main narrative and the characterization of the hero. 

Of the inserted episodes preceding Lucius’ metamorphosis that of his 
involvement with the Festival of Laughter, his encounter with the 
‘robbers’, and his public humiliation in his spoof trial for murder 
(2.31-3.18) has provoked much discussion. It can be read as a warning of 
what is in store for him if he persists in his obsessive interest in 
witchcraft: it is a mistake on the part of Photis, the sorceress’s 
apprentice, that leads to the unplanned metamorphosis of the wineskins 
and its sequel, and it is to be a second mistake of hers that precipitates 

the disaster of Lucius’ own transformation. The mockery which he 
suffers during the ‘trial’ is then a foretaste of his lot as an ass, 
proverbially a subject of ridicule for ugliness and stupidity. There are 
obvious technical flaws in the conduct of the story (3.13 and note), and it 
is difficult to know how exactly to interpret the manifest irony of 
Byrrhena’s invitation to Lucius to ‘provide a diversion’ (2.31 and note). 
She is a more ambiguous character than Abroea, her prototype in the 
Onos; is she, like Milo, a willing party to the deception? 

The other inserted episodes and stories in books 1-3 are, in contrast, 
transparently cautionary, reinforcing the warning explicitly given by 
Byrrhena (2.5). Read or reread in the light of the priest’s homily after 
Lucius’ retransformation (11.15), they can all be seen as underlining his - 
proleptically asinine - perseverance in the courses that ultimately cause 
his downfall. Of the stories that he hears as ass, that of Cupid and Psyche 
stands in a class by itself and calls for separate consideration. The others 
constitute a running commentary on the world of which he is now a 
feeling but inarticulate spectator. It is in fact the same world as that 
which he formerly inhabited when he was a privileged individual who 
would contemplate life de haut en has. Now he sees it from below and is 
duly appalled by what he sees. 


Provincial life in second-century Greece as depicted in The Golden Ass is 
in many ways so anarchic, legally, socially, and morally, that it is natural 
to question the historical accuracy of the picture, and to ask whether the 
writer has taken the novelist’s freedom to create his own world - a 
travesty or caricature of reality - to enhance the impact of his narrative 
and to point the moral of his book. No more than poets are novelists 
bound to tell the truth - 

oh, creative poetic licence 
Is boundless, and unconstrained 

By historical fact - 18 

and The Golden Ass was not written as social history. However, unlike 
most of the Greek romances, but like the Onos and Petronius’ Satyricon, 
the setting of the book is firmly contemporary, and as far as we can tell 
from the available evidence would have been recognized by 
contemporary readers as broadly realistic. 

There is no doubt, for instance, that outside the larger centres law 
enforcement in the provinces of the Roman Empire was by and large of 

the do-it-yourself order. Large landowners policed their estates 

themselves with their own retainers; it is the insensate rage of the 
tyrannical plutocrat rather than the arbitrary nature of his conduct that 
would have seemed exceptional (9.35-8). Brigandage, prominent in the 
plots of other romances and central in that of The Golden Ass, was a fact 
of life, controlled, in so far as it was controlled, by ad hoc punitive action 
(7.7) rather than by systematic policing. In point of fact the only effective 
police were the soldiers at the disposition of the provincial governor. 
Hypata boasts a town guard (3.3), but in the absence of government 
troops the city was evidently powerless to curb the activities of the local 
Mohocks (2.18). This may be a case of authorial inadvertence, but rings 
true in the light of what Juvenal has to say about street crime in Rome 
itself some half a century earlier (Satires, 3. 278-314). Whether a court 
other than that of the governor was legally competent to try a Roman 

citizen on a capital charge is debatable, but many contemporary readers 
may have been no more certainly informed than modern scholars on such 
points, and it would probably have occurred to few to think about a 
question which the hero himself does not raise. Nor again would most 
readers stop to wonder why the doctor in the trial of the evil stepmother 
delays giving his crucial evidence until the very last moment (10.8), 
instead of aborting the proceedings at the outset. That would indeed have 
spared the innocent defendant much anguish, but it would have deprived 
the reader of his pleasure. Court-room scenes were a standard feature of 
ancient romance precisely because of their dramatic potentialities, and 
the essence of drama is suspense. 

It is against this on the whole recognizable background that the 
inserted stories in books 8-10 are projected. They present a grim 
composite picture of a world motivated by deceit, spite, greed, and lust. 
Increasingly it is the themes of adultery and murder, often by poisoning, 
that come to predominate. The colouring of the picture is self- 
consciously literary: so the story of the incestuous stepmother is 
acknowledged as lifted from Greek tragedy and embellished with allusions 
to the Latin poets (10.2 and note). Nevertheless it will not do to write 
them off as too literary and too highly coloured to be credible. A glance at 
a typical morning’s newspaper headlines suffices to make the point: 
infidelity and murder, often in bizarre circumstances, are as much part of 
the fabric of everyday life as they were eighteen centuries ago. The 
mother whom Juvenal, ironically expecting to be disbelieved, arraigns for 
poisoning her own children ( Satires , 6.629-46) actually existed, and there 
were others like her. When he proclaims that 

Posterity can add 

No more, or worse, to our ways; our grandchildren 

will act 

As we do, and share our desires. Truly every vice 
Has reached its ruinous zenith, 

he no doubt exaggerates the peculiar wickedness of his own age, but 
what he says would have corresponded, as such portrayals still do, with 
contemporary perceptions. The scene of moral chaos of which Lucius, 
willy-nilly, is a fascinated and revolted spectator and in which he is 
forced in the end to participate, formed part of the mental furniture of 
the age. It is to escape from this nightmare world that, quite 
unexpectedly, he throws himself on the protection of the saviour goddess 


In the Onos Lucius manages at the eleventh hour, when he is actually in 
the theatre and about to perform his act, to snatch a bite at some roses 
and regain his human shape. This he accomplishes without divine 
assistance, but the intervention of the governor is needed to save him 


from possible untoward consequences (54). In The Golden Ass the role 
of the governor is taken by Isis, the implication being that only under her 
special protection can the reverse metamorphosis be safely achieved. But 
why Isis? In the popular consciousness as interpreted by the Greek writer 
Artemidorus (ft. c. AD 175) in his handbook on the interpretation of 
dreams, Isis and other Egyptian gods stood for salvation of those in 
extreme peril (Onirocritica, 2. 39). That of course cuts two ways: in 
invoking her protection Lucius might appear to some to be a credulous 
victim of superstition. Credulity has all along been one of his leading 
characteristics and has contributed heavily to his downfall. Will he fare 
any better as a devotee of Isis than he did as a devotee of witchcraft? 

The beauty and the fervour of the language in which his experiences 
and sentiments are described may seem to rule out irony, or they could 
conceivably be taken to underline it. Striking correspondences with 
historically attested cases, particularly that of St Augustine, can be cited 
in support of the thesis that this is the authentic narrative of an actual 
conversion - that this is autobiography. For the effect that the sight of 
the full moon has on Lucius, Nancy Shumate has compared what was felt 
by the former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, also on a Mediterranean 

seashore. This is not an isolated instance. At the age of fourteen Gerald 
Brenan underwent a similar experience, though it ended less dramatically 
than Cleaver’s, which culminated in a vision of Christ. This was at Dinard 
on the coast of Brittany: 

Going into my bedroom one night after dinner I discovered the full moon 
pouring in through the double windows and filling the little box-like 

space with its light. It seemed to be distending and pushing apart the 
walls with its brightness, to be filling the room, the bed, the cupboard to 
bursting. I stood gazing at it for a moment. Then, stepping out onto the 
balcony, I looked down on the long glittering path it had laid on the water 
and heard the waves splashing softly far below. All at once a feeling I find 
it difficult to describe came over me - a sense of some enormous force 
and beauty existing around me: a presence, a state that promised 
unspeakable delight and happiness if only I could join myself to it. But I 
could not so join myself. I was my ordinary self, carried suddenly into an 
over-charged, over-resplendent world. For a time I stood there, overcome 
by the sheer transcendency of the spectacle, then gradually the 

impression faded and I went away. 

Brenan’s vision in fact has more in common with Lucius’ than does that 
of Cleaver; particularly interesting is the suddenness of his ‘sense of some 
enormous force and beauty existing around me’, which closely parallels 
Lucius’ instant conviction that what he sees is a manifestation of the 
goddess whose power controls the workings of the whole universe (11.1). 
Even more interesting, perhaps, is the contrast between Lucius’ voluntary 
submission to the dominion of the goddess and Brenan’s stalwart refusal 
to abdicate his selfhood. 

No less apparently authentic is the lyrical description of the spring 
morning to which Lucius awakes after his vision (11.7). This sense of 
rebirth, of the newness of everything, can also be paralleled in conversion 
narratives, but is not exclusive to them. It can be brought about by a 
sudden reprieve - from sentence of death by execution or cancer, for 
instance - or by anything which takes one right out of oneself, such as 
being in love: 

It was not the first time they had seen trees, blue sky, green grass, not the 
first time they had heard running water and the wind blowing through 
the leaves; but certainly they had never yet admired it all as though 
nature had only just come into existence, or only begun to be beautiful 

since the gratification of their desires. 

It can be convincingly expressed by any writer with experience of life 
who has the gift of identifying with the emotions of his characters. This 
was what Dickens, who was an accomplished actor and less like a miser 
than any man who ever lived, did with Scrooge: 

Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no 
mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to 
dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, 

glorious! Glorious! 

No writer has ever more faithfully obeyed Horace’s precept: 

Before you can move me to tears, 

you must grieve yourself. 

His is an extreme, but not an uncommon instance. The reader who has 
been moved by the poignancy of Wordsworth’s ’Solitary Reaper’ may be 
disconcerted to discover that the poet’s source for the plaintive song of 

the Highland lass was not his own experience but a book. That does not 
rob the poem of its value, but it is a salutary warning against drawing 
biographical inferences from imaginative literature. 

Most of the Latin books that have come down to us were written by 
men who had been through the mill of an educational system which was 
grounded in the study and practice of classical rhetoric. This was 
essentially the art of persuasion, its aim plausibility. For a writer trained 
from childhood in its techniques it was not necessary actually to have 
been vouchsafed a vision of Isis or undergone initiation into her cult to 

be able to describe such things vividly and convincingly. Since we 
chance to know that Lucius in The Golden Ass is not an original literary 
creation but a character taken over from the Onos, and that his 
adventures up to the moment of his purported conversion largely 
reproduce those of the Greek model, we might well suspect that the 
sequel too has been borrowed - perhaps with ulterior motives - from 
some lost narrative of a purported mystic experience. It therefore comes 
as something of a shock when at the very end of the novel it is 
authenticated by the sudden re-emergence of the author who had made 
so fleeting an appearance in the Prologue and then faded inconspicuously 
into the fictional narrator. Indeed he not only resurfaces but as good as 
names himself 


That the author of The Golden Ass was one Apuleius of the North African 
city of Madaura we know both from the manuscripts of his book and 
from the testimony of, among others, St Augustine. It is indeed Augustine 
who is our authority for the tide under which it is best known, The 
Golden Ass, which he expressly states ( City of God, 18.18) was that given 
it by Apuleius himself. In the manuscripts it is called Metamorphoses, 
‘Transformations’, on the face of it a more obviously appropriate tide. 
The Prologue’s announcement of it as a tale of changes of shape and 
vicissitudes of fortune points up its affinity to Ovid’s great poem of the 
same name, which also depicts a world in which ‘no event or character... 

can be trusted to remain what it may first seem to be’. Apuleius clearly 

knew his Ovid, as can be seen, to take one particularly striking example, 
in his portrayal of Psyche’s agonized indecision over whether to kill her 
husband (5.21 and note). It has never on the other hand been 
convincingly explained in what sense Lucius-as-ass is ‘golden’; the Latin 

word should connote worth or splendour, not qualities which can 
plausibly be attributed to him. To Isis the ass, identified in her cult with 
the malign Seth-Typhon, her enemy and the murderer of her husband 
Osiris, was a hateful beast (11.6); and Lucius’ behaviour in that guise 
does nothing to redeem its reputation or his own character. The 
mischievous suggestion of Paula James that Apuleius’ (if it was his) 
alternative tide for his book was not Asinus Aureus but Asinus Auritus, ‘the 

ass with ears’, the listening or attentive ass, 2 is perilously attractive. 
That would be in the best vein of Apuleian irony, the ambiguity of 
auritus underlining the contrast between the efficiency of Lucius’ ears as 
receptors (9.15) and his consistent inability to profit from what they tell 

him ( and note). 

To return to the author himself. After his brief and shadowy 
appearance in the Prologue, he becomes more or less invisible, apart 
from the joking apology for the language of Apollo’s oracle (above, §4) 
and occasional arch reminders of the literary quality of what the reader is 
enjoying (2.12, 6.25, 6.29, 8.1 and notes), until the dream of the 
significantly named Asinius. To him it is revealed by Osiris himself that 
the candidate for the last and most important of his series of initiations is 
‘a man from Madaura’ (11.27). This offhand identification of Lucius with 
his creator has rattled scholars; some have even emended Apuleius’ text 
to eliminate it. Are we in fact obliged to take it seriously? Writers 
sometimes do this sort of thing just for fun. Evelyn Waugh’s novel The 
Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold ends with ‘Pinfold’ sitting down to record his 
adventures, and beginning by transcribing the title page and the first 
chapter-heading of the book that the reader has just come to the end of, 
minus in this case the name of the real author. This is a technically 
elegant device, a witty acknowledgement of what Waugh’s friends at least 
were well aware of, that the book was based on his own experiences. In 
the case of The Golden Ass it is arguable that the author’s sudden 
appearance represents a variation on the common literary device of the 
so-called sphragis or seal, an allusive registration of authorship 

incorporated in the text of the book itself. In other words, is this 
perhaps simply an arch way of saying ‘Apuleius wrote this book’? If so, 
he chose a way of doing so that was calculated, not merely to flutter the 
critical dovecotes centuries later, but to give his contemporary readers 
something to wonder about. 

In identifying himself in this way Apuleius, as would not have been 
the case had he simply named himself, was deliberately drawing attention 
to his public persona. He was a notable figure in his province, the 
recipient of numerous civic honours and holder of an important 
priesthood. His reputation rested on two pillars, his oratorical powers 
and his status as a Platonic philosopher. St Augustine calls him ‘the 

famous Platonist’. His native place was clearly proud of her 
distinguished son; there has survived the base of a statue put up there at 
public expense ‘To the Platonic philosopher’, which can hardly 

commemorate anybody but Apuleius. Lucius is not a Platonic 
philosopher, but he boasts (1.2 and note) of his descent from Plutarch, 
who was a declared Platonist and who had written a work On Isis and 
Osiris, in which he set out to make philosophical sense of the gruesome 
Egyptian myth of the murder and dismemberment of Osiris by 

Typhon. He had also written a treatise On curiosity, very much to 
Lucius’ address. Obviously the author of The Golden Ass cannot be 

identified tout court with its narrator, but equally the ass and the 
Platonic philosopher cannot be considered to have nothing to do with 
each other. A strong argument to the contrary is the presence in the book 
of the story of Cupid and Psyche, its structural and thematic centrepiece. 


Though often, for understandable reasons, detached and edited or 
translated separately, Cupid and Psyche is an organic and integral part of 
The Golden Ass. Structurally it is firmly anchored in the ‘Charite- 
complex’ (above, §5), the story being continued across the divisions 
between books 4-5 and 5-6, another technique characteristic of Ovid in 

the Metamorphoses. Thematically the story of a, or rather the, human 
soul in quest of salvation through union with the divine is a parable for 
what is happening to Lucius even as he listens to it, though as with 
everything else he sees, hears, and suffers, it all goes in at one of his ass’s 
ears and out at the other. It calls attention to itself as a unique feat of 
literary combination: a fairytale plot of a traditional type transformed 
into a universal allegory by the symbolic status of its protagonists, Love 

and the Soul, and presented in terms of a Platonizing duality. 

It is this last element that is important in the present context. In his 
contribution to the discussion in Plato’s Symposium Pausanias had 
distinguished between two Aphrodites, Urania or Heavenly, and 
Pandemos or Vulgar, and two Eroses to correspond, their respective 
provinces being the love of souls and bodies (180d2- 181b8). Apuleius 
was familiar with the passage, which he paraphrases in his Apology (ch. 

12); and in Cupid and Psyche he displays Venus and Cupid in these dual 
Platonic guises contending for the human soul. The actual battle is 
carried on between Venus in her lower (II, Vulgaris = Aphrodite 
Pandemos) and Cupid in his higher guise (Amor I, Caelestis = Eros 

Uranios), just as Venus in both guises, personified by Photis and Isis, 
contends for mastery over Lucius. The role of Cupid and Psyche in the 
economy of the novel as a philosophical commentary on the main 
narrative is central to an understanding of the book as a whole. 

Contemporary awareness of Plato largely centred on the more popular 
and accessible dialogues. These included, in addition to the Symposium, 
the Phaedrus and the Phaedo. Psyche’s pursuit of Cupid and her fall to 
earth (5.24) recall the Phaedrus: ‘When the soul is unable to follow God 
and fails to see, and through some misfortune grows heavy, being filled 

with forgetfulness and wickedness, it loses its wings and falls to earth’ 
(248c). In the Phaedo what is said about the need for the soul to purge 
itself of the defilements of bodily pleasure if it is to attain to eternal life 
with the gods (81a-c) is clearly relevant to both Psyche and Lucius; and 
the transformation which in the Onos appears to have no special 
significance takes on a new, metaphorical, dimension in The Golden Ass 
in the light of Socrates’ suggestion that ‘those who have thoughtlessly 
given themselves over to gluttony and violence and drunkenness are likely 
to be clothed in the shapes of asses and similar beasts’ (81e). 

We may also detect Plutarch behind the part played in the stories of 
both Psyche and Lucius by what the priest of Isis calls ‘ill-starred 
curiosity’, curiositas improspera (11.15). In his treatise on curiosity or 
importunate meddling Plutarch appeals to a standard philosophical 
distinction between proper objects of investigation, such as natural 
science, and things that are attractive merely because they are hidden ( De 
curiositate, 5). Apuleius himself draws a similar distinction when 
rebutting accusations of sorcery in his Apology (29-41), and it is implicit 
in the contrast between the pursuits for which Lucius’ family 
connections and educational advantages should have equipped him (1.2, 
1.4 and notes) and his prurient obsession with the unclean secrets of 
witchcraft. Philosophy, as Plutarch had emphasized (On Isis and Osiris, 
68), was the only true guide to the mysteries. These higher and lower 
forms of curiosity can also be seen as corresponding to the higher and 
lower forms of love that war for the souls of Psyche and Lucius. 


In the light of these various hints the attentive reader postulated in the 
Prologue can hardly fail to sense the lurking presence of the Platonic 
philosopher in The Golden Ass, and to suspect that Apuleius has taken a 

leaf out of the book of another Latin poet whom he evidently knew and 
admired, Lucretius. He, in a famous passage of the De rerum natura, 
twice repeated, had compared the poetry in which he had clothed the 
teachings of Epicurus to the honey smeared by the doctor on a cup of 
bitter medicine to induce children to drink it, an image which Apuleius 
could also have come across in Plato’s Laws (De rerum natura, i. 936-47, 
4. 11 -22; Laws, 659e). Thus the pleasure promised in the Prologue is a 
means to an end, the honey on the astringent cup of edification. 

Apuleius’ strategy, however, is more subtle than this suggests. The 

pleasure experienced by the irreflective reader of these amusing 
stories is not, as in the case of Lucretius, morally neutral. It is implicitly 
on a par with that experienced by their narrator and with his slavish 
enjoyment of Photis. Plutarch taxes those of a prying disposition with 
shunning scientific research because ‘there is nothing in it’ and preferring 
‘histories’ of which the staple is misfortune; and the catalogue of such 
‘histories’ that follows is almost identical with the subjects of the 
inserted stories in The Golden Ass ( De curiositate, 5). Our ideally alert and 
perceptive reader cannot, like Lucius, be a mere spectator of these events, 
but is, so to say, on his literary honour to participate in the book’s 
dialectic and to make judgements of a moral order on what he reads. 
Whereas Lucius remains impervious throughout to the implications for 
himself of what is happening to him, even at one point going out of his 
way to remark that his experiences have left him no wiser (9.13 and 
note), and cannot be said to have earned his salvation by repentance, 
greater self-awareness, or (pace Nancy Shumate) intellectual 
enlightenment, the reader has no excuse, with the example of Lucius 
before him, for not perceiving that there is in all this some sort of moral, 
a lesson to be learned. 

Nancy Shumate has argued eloquently that Lucius’ ‘conversion’ is 
intellectually rather than morally motivated. It is difficult to extract this 
from the text. It is emotion - a combination of fear and disgust - rather 

than reason that precipitates his flight from the world of confusion and 
disintegration into which his metamorphosis had plunged him to the 
vision of cosmic order embodied in the omnipotent and all-embracing 
godhead of Isis. The realization that she and she alone rules the destinies 
of mankind (11.1) is not arrived at by any process of ratiocination and 
has not been prepared for: it simply happens. The relationship of 
Fortune, Providence and Isis-as-Fortune/Providence remains as nebulous 
after the revelations of the priest as it was before (11.15 and note). For 
Lucius it is enough that he has found security. Nothing in the subsequent 
account of his devotions and initiations indicates the existence of an 
intellectual component in his religious experiences. The ‘harbour of 

Tranquillity’ into which he has been received (11.15) is a final resting- 
place, not a point of embarkation for a voyage of philosophical discovery. 
Moreover it must again be emphasized that Lucius has done nothing to 
earn his salvation, as the ignorant comments of the crowd ironically 
remind us (11.16 and note). A Platonic philosopher would surely have 
held that enlightenment had to be actively sought and worked for. 

If The Golden Ass was seriously intended to edify, the conclusion to 
which the narrative of Lucius’ experiences as a soul in quest of salvation 
ultimately comes is an unexpected one. That this indeed is what the book 
must be about is demonstrated by the presence in it of the story of Cupid 
and Psyche; its allegorical implications and its bearing on the story of 
Lucius himself clinch the matter. But did Apuleius, the famous ‘Platonic 
philosopher’, really mean to offer devotion to the cult of Isis and Osiris as 
the way to the highest good for a man? What would his contemporary 
admirers have made of that idea? Centuries later we find Macrobius 
expressing surprise that he had indulged himself in the composition of 
‘fictitious love-stories’ ( Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, 1. 2. 8). 
That, one would think, was nothing to the surprise that would have been 
felt by Apuleius’ fellow citizens at the gloss that they were evidently 
expected to put on those stories. Were they, however, his intended 

The composition and publication of The Golden Ass is generally dated 
to the later period of his life, when he had returned from Rome and 

settled in Africa. It is tempting to wonder whether he wrote it as a 
young man during his residence in Rome. Appeals to its style cut both 
ways: exuberance is no more a reliable sign of youth (Nabokov) than 
technical assurance is of maturity (Lucan, Macaulay). More cogent is the 
argument that this may seem more like the sort of book that would 
appeal to a metropolitan readership rather than to staider provincial 
tastes. The intrusive allusions, rather in the manner of Plautus, to matters 
specifically Roman and to legal quibbles (2.16, 4.18, 5.26, 5.29, 6.8, 6.22, 
6.29, 9.10, 9.27, 10.29 and notes) may be thought to point in the same 
direction. One objection to this earlier dating is the presence in The 

Golden Ass of apparent references to the Apology. About the 
circumstances in which this speech was delivered we are better 
informed. On his way home from Rome Apuleius was detained by illness 
at a place called Oea in Tripoli, where he married a wealthy widow, 
Pudentilla. This was at the instance of one of her sons, whom he had met 
in Rome, but other members of her family, who had an interest in the 
disposition of her fortune, prosecuted Apuleius on various charges, 
principally one of gaining Pudentilla’ s affections by magic. The Apology, a 
brilliantly witty and apparently effective rebuttal of these accusations, 

was delivered in about AD 160. That does not rule out the possibility that 
The Golden Ass was originally written at Rome to be read to selected 
audiences there, and that the passages containing the apparent allusions 
to the Apology were touched in later. There is, after all, nothing to show 
that the book was given to the world in Apuleius’ lifetime. He might well 
not have wished his public image to be compromised by a youthful jeu 
d’esprit in which Platonism is harnessed to Oriental superstition. 

That argument is weakened if in fact the tendency of the book is in 
the end to undermine rather than to proselytize. Lucius’ uncritical 
raptures at his first initiation and his emotional parting from the 
Cenchrean Isis and her priest (11.24-5) are succeeded by surprise and a 
certain impatience on his part when he discovers that he is not as yet 
safely berthed in the harbour of Tranquillity. More initiations, and more 
expense, are needed before he can count himself really of the elect. It is 
natural to wonder if he is being taken for a ride, as at one point he 
himself suspects (11.29). It has been suggested that the original Greek 

Metamorphoses was a satire on credulity and superstition. Is there an 
echo of this in Apuleius’ adaptation? There is more than a hint of naivety 
in the satisfaction which Lucius takes in the resplendent get-up and the 
statuesque pose in which he is displayed to the congregation (11.24). 
However, it could be maintained that these ironies, if they were so 
intended, would have come across more sharply in Rome than in 
Madaura. In the eyes of educated Romans what sort of figure would a 
shaven-headed Isiac hierophant have cut in the Forum? Would Lucius’ 
gleaming pate (11.10) have, as Winkler suggests, identified him in that 

setting as a buffoon? Temples of Isis were scattered all over the Greek 
and Roman world, but that in Rome was particularly frequented by 
women and had a louche reputation (11.26 and note). Did Apuleius really 
mean his readers to feel that Lucius’ final state is a truly enviable one? Or 
is he, when we take our leave of him, living in a fool’s paradise? Is he as 
much of an ass as ever? And if so, how far down the garden path have we 
allowed ourselves to be led along with him by Apuleius’ storytelling 


The Golden Ass is a fictional romance. Papyrus discoveries have greatly 
enlarged our notions of the range and variety in subject-matter, treatment, 

and style of ancient Greek fiction. Apuleius’ book, viewed against this 
background, is not sui generis; it shares more of the characteristics of the 
genre - if this is not too precise a term for this diverse and fluid category 
of writing - than has been generally supposed. All narratives of 
separation, travel, and reunion of lovers look back to the Odyssey, as 

Lucius’ ruminations in the mill acknowledge (9.13 and note), and as is 

even more explicitly and repeatedly signalled in Petronius’ Satyricon. 
Digressions and inserted narratives were a standard feature of epic as of 
prose romance. Pirates and bandits figure prominently in the novels; 
what is unusual about Apuleius’ treatment of this theme is the comic 
disparity between the grim stronghold and warlike pretensions of his 
robber band and their often farcical incompetence in action. Is this a mild 

literary send-up? Egypt had always fascinated the Greeks: the scene of 
Xenophon’s Ephesiaca, Achilles Tatius’ Leucippe and Clitophon, and 
Heliodorus’ Ethiopica is set partially in Egypt, and a war between Persia 
and Egypt figures in Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe. The Egyptian 
element in The Golden Ass reflects this fascination and may have been 
incorporated by Apuleius for literary rather than autobiographical 
reasons. It may be that scholars have been too ready to take his evidence 
as to the details of Isiac cult at its face value and make insufficient 
allowance for his exuberant fancy ( 11 . 10 , 16 , 17 , 30 and notes). 

A pervasive theme in the Greek romances is the influence of Fortune. 
Fortune (Tyche) was widely worshipped in Greece, and her prominence 
in shaping the lives of the characters in the novels is often taken to reflect 
a general sense of insecurity in the life of ordinary people. In The Golden 
Ass this role is greatly enhanced. Fortune, not always distinguished from 

Providence, controls every turn of events. She is not merely capricious, 
but actively malevolent, persecuting Lucius as Poseidon and Juno had 
persecuted the heroes of the Odyssey and Aeneid, and as Priapus had 
persecuted Encolpius in the Satyricon. Eventually her function in the 
scheme of things as anti-Isis, blind as opposed to (fore) seeing Fortune, is 
revealed in the priest’s homily. Though the theological implications of 
this dichotomous or Manichaean conception of Fortune are never made 
clear (11.15 and note), here again Apuleius can be seen taking a theme 
from the common stock of romantic fiction and manipulating and 
exploiting it with some freedom for his own purposes. That what 
emerges from the process is not entirely clear or consistent - what for 
instance is the relationship of the Providence that watches over Psyche 
to that which rescues Lucius? - is something that by now we have 
perhaps come to expect. 

If in the final analysis the reader is left wondering what The Golden 
Ass is really about, what exactly Apuleius is getting at, that may be just 
what its author intended. What he promises in the Prologue is enjoyment 
and wonder. The Latin word for ‘wonder’, miror, can connote 

bewilderment as well as admiration. Like all great works of art, The 
Golden Ass stoutly resists simplification. In this it resembles that other 

great Latin narrative of changed fortunes, travel, heroic endurance, 
separation, union, and homecoming, Virgil’s Aeneid. When we part 
company with Lucius he is enjoying himself, as we have been. Much of 
the pleasure of reading and rereading this great book is that of being kept 


In another particular Apuleius turns out to have dealt faithfully with his 
readers. The promise of a literary tour de force conveyed in the image of 
the circus-rider, leaping from horse to horse in mid-gallop, is amply 
redeemed. The Golden Ass is a dazzling combination of parable, allegory, 
satire, robust humour, sex, violence, Grand Guignol, confession and 
buffoonery, a unique feat of creative fantasy. Its rich literary texture is 
matched by a linguistic exuberance and stylistic versatility that confronts 
the translator with a succession of thorny, sometimes insuperable, 
problems. How Apuleius himself handled the task of translation can be 

seen from comparison with the Onos. He rarely renders the original 
word for word for long at a stretch, but subjects it to a process for which 
it is difficult to find a better term than souping up. Most of his 
innovations are by way of verbal amplification and the addition of 
picturesque detail, but the characterization is also enriched, and 
sometimes, as with Milo and Photis, radically revised. The general effect 
is to impart life and colour to a comparatively jejune original. This is 
typical of Roman treatment of Greek literary models, reminiscent for 
instance of what the comic dramatists, Plautus especially, did with their 
exemplars: what was called uertere, ‘turning’, something not adequately 
described by the word ‘translation’. 

Liberties of this sort are not for the translator nowadays, but it is 
interesting to note that one writer in modern times produced a ‘version’ 
of The Golden Ass which took more than Apuleian freedoms with the 
book. In 1708 one Charles Gildon, a well-known Grub Street figure of the 
time, published anonymously what he called The New Metamorphosis; or, 
The Pleasant Transformation: being The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius of 

Medaura. Alter’d and Improv’d to the Modern Times and Manners ’ 5 - as 
indeed it had been with a vengeance. This purported to be a translation 
from the Italian of ‘Carlo Monte Socio, Fellow of the Academy of the 
Humanities in Rome’; his account of the scandalous goings-on attributed 
to ‘Nuns, Fryars, Jesuits’, who are substituted for the dissolute priests of 
Atargatis, is no doubt not unconnected with the fact that Gildon himself 
had been educated for the Roman Catholic priesthood but had 
subsequently lapsed into deism. He made one ingenious and effective 
concession to plausibility by having the hero transformed into a lapdog 

rather than a donkey, and so freely admitted to the drawing-rooms and 
bedchambers of the society ladies whose licentious behaviour he so 
feelingly depicts. 

Though more than once reprinted, Gildon’s book has been little 
noticed. The version most familiar to educated Englishmen, which held 
the field until comparatively recendy, is that of William Adlington, first 
published in 1566. Though the language inevitably sounds unfamiliar to 
those not brought up on the King James version of the Bible, it can still 
be read with pleasure; and in one respect both Adlington’s and Gildon’s 
versions have a useful lesson to teach. Any attempt to reproduce 
Apuleius’ peculiar Latinity, its idiosyncratic mixture of colloquial, 
poetic, and archaizing vocabulary, which includes many words coined by 
Apuleius himself, its often wilfully contorted phraseology, and its 
elaborately balanced rhythmical structures - let alone to render it literally 
- would involve something like the creation of a new dialect of English. 
One feature of his writing, however, can be reproduced in modern 
English, and that is its fluency; and this is something that both Adlington 
and Gildon achieve and that has eluded some of their successors. Classical 
Latin writers - Cicero, Livy, even in his own way Tacitus - cultivated the 
periodic style, in which the utterance is built up from interdependent 
and interlocking clauses into a syntactical structure designed to postpone 
the full comprehension of the sense until the reader has reached the end 
of the sentence: a circular rather than a linear arrangement. Apuleius’ 
sentence-structure is serial: the clauses do not as a rule interlock but 
succeed each other, and this, added to his habit of repeating and varying 
his expression for effect or emphasis, creates a flow and momentum in 
his prose analogous to the flow achieved by Ovid in the more strictly 
ordered medium of the epic hexameter. A student coming to him fresh 
from Cicero or Livy may well find his style disconcerting at first; but if 
one discounts its more rococo embellishments his is an easier and racier 
Latinity, with its roots reaching further back, a truly native style. The 
periodic sentence was a Greek importation and had to be painfully 
learned; some respectable writers, such as the Elder Pliny, never really 
got the hang of it. With Apuleius the reader is in contact with a late 
flowering of a tradition of free-flowing discourse that goes back to the 
very beginnings of Latin culture. 

The present version, therefore, aims above all at doing justice to the 
movement of Apuleius’ Latin in idiomatic contemporary English. It takes 
as its motto the words of Michael Grant: ’Simplicity... is the only hope... 

English must be readable, and readable today.’ This is in the tradition of 
Adlington, whose English is characterized in the anonymous Preface of 
the Abbey Classics edition of 1922 as ’simple, direct and fresh’. 

Occasionally, where Apuleius becomes, even for him, obtrusively 
mannered, some compromise with this principle must be allowed. If then 
here and there the English expression seems not altogether natural, it is 
likely to be because the expression of the Latin is so Apuleian that it 
would denature it altogether to reduce it to a blandly current idiom. 


The widespread literary fame which Lucius promises himself, or rather 
his creator (2.12, 4.32, 6.25, 6.29 and notes), was in fact slow to 
materialize. Between the sixth and the thirteenth centuries The Golden 
Ass was largely lost to view, and it was as a magician that its author was 
celebrated. Augustine, in his discussion of the place of demons in the 
scheme of things ( City of God, 8. 12-22), repeatedly cites Apuleius as 
prime witness of the Platonic position, and his uncertainty as to whether 
he had actually undergone metamorphosis (above, n. 38) evidently 
betokens acceptance of the fact that such things were possible. That 
would also have been true of many if not most of Apuleius’ 
contemporaries. The picture that emerges from the Apology is that of a 
society where religion and magic perforce co-existed, however uneasily, 

and where people believed in and regulated their lives by both. The 
very fact of the prosecution’s being brought at all and the elaborate 
character of Apuleius’ defence shows that these matters were taken 

seriously. Nor was this true only of Oea. There was thus little or 
nothing in Lucius’ narrative, with the possible exception of the dragon 
(8.21 and note), that even an educated reader would have necessarily 
found incredible. 

It was at the Renaissance that Apuleius came into his own as a 
storyteller, when he was rediscovered by Boccaccio. Artistic exploitation 

of The Golden Ass speedily took off in a number of directions. Its rich 
store of inserted tales was plundered by, among others, Boccaccio himself 
in the Decameron, Cervantes in Don Quixote, and Le Sage in Gil Bias. The 
ass-story lent itself readily to allegorical and satirical development. It is, 
however, unsurprisingly, through the tale of Cupid and Psyche that 
Apuleius’ book has exerted its greatest influence. The story has been a 
perennial source of inspiration to poets, dramatists, composers for opera 
and ballet, and artists. That Shakespeare had read it in Adlington’s 
translation appears from several plays, most notably A Midsummer Night’s 

Dream and Othello. Keats, Morris, and Bridges all fell under the spell. 
Perhaps, however, the peculiar charm of Apuleius’ storytelling genius 
has been most tellingly communicated to English readers in the 
languorous prose of Walter Pater’s recreation of the tale in Marius the 
Epicurean. These are only some, and by no means the last, of the 

multifarious transformations undergone by The Golden Ass during the six 
and a half centuries since it emerged from the long obscurity of the Dark 
and Middle Ages. It is this endless capacity for metamorphosis that truly 

identifies Apuleius as a magician. 


1. H. E. Butler and A. S. Owen (eds.), Apulei Apologia sive Pro se de magia 
(Oxford, 1914), p. x, n. 4; Winkler, Auctor & Actor, p. 227; Grant, 
revision of Graves, p. xiv. 

2. In the author’s manuscript there would have been nothing by way of 
titling or numbering or paragraphing to set it off from what follows. 

3. OLD s.vv. intendo 11, intentus la, 2a. 

4. lepido susurro; on the recurrence of the word lepidus in the novel see 

I. 1 and note. 

5. OLD s.v. excolo 2b, 3; the prefix ex- is intensive. 

6. Graecanicam, not Graecam. Some detect a nuance, ‘Greekish’ or 
‘Greeklike’. It is hard to see the point, and more likely that this is one of 
many examples of the author’s preference for the recherche to the 

7. Here an interesting analogy suggests itself with Ovid in exile. 
Repeatedly in the Tristia he compares his tribulations to those of the epic 
heroes Ulysses and Aeneas, which as a poet he had shaped and 
manipulated. The resemblance may be fortuitous, but Ovid’s influence is 
strongly felt in The Golden Ass: see Krabbe, The Metamorphoses of 
Apuleius, pp. 37-81, and below, nn. 9, 16, 17. 

8. At 1.24. Similarly Psyche is not named until her story is well under 
way (4.30). 

9. The manner in which the story straddles the divisions between books 
4-5 and 5-6 and in which the divisions are used to mark important 
stages in the action and focus attention on the situation of the heroine is 
strongly reminiscent of Ovid’s technique in the Metamorphoses. See 
above, n. 7. 

10. He is certus, assured, confident, having certain knowledge: OLD s.v. 

11. 12a. 

II. They had been reinforced, or so it has been held, in a specifically Isiac 
way by the part played in Thelyphron’s story by the Egyptian priest 
Zatchlas. If that was the author’s intention, the message has been 
compromised by the association with necromancy (2.28 and note). 

12. So the priest of Isis: ‘Let the infidels behold, let them behold and 
know their error’ (11.15). 

13. Introduction to the Everyman edition (1910) of Henry Fielding, 

Joseph Andrews. 

14. All of them more or less obscure. It is perhaps worth remarking that 
if Met. was by Lucian, it might have seemed a bold undertaking to 
translate and liberally embellish - some might say travesty - the work of 
a writer of his stature. 

15. Some examples are givenin the Notes, but it would be tedious and 
unprofitable to attempt to compile a complete catalogue. Some can be 
more or less plausibly explained away, but most must be ascribed to 
simple carelessness. The average reader is unlikely to be much worried 
by them, and they nowhere seriously impair the impact of the story. For 
examples of inconsistencies, loose ends and some sheer absurdities in 
nineteenth-century English fiction see J. Sutherland, Is Heathcliffa 
Murderer? (Oxford, 1996) and id., Can Jane Eyre be Happy? (Oxford, 

16. J. B. Priestley, Margin Released. A writer’s reminiscences and 
reflections (1963), p. 174. The same could be said, mutatis mutandis, of 
Ovid’s Metamorphoses; see above, n. 7. 

17. See Schlam, The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, pp. 34-6. Here too The 
Golden Ass recalls Ovid: the manner in which the stories at 9.14-31 are 
inset (see Appendix) recalls Ovid’s ‘Chinese-box’ technique in, for 
instance, the Arethusa episode ( Metamorphoses , 5. 337-678). See above, 
n. 7. 

18. Ovid, Amores, 3. 12. 41-2, trans. Peter Green. 

19. W. Nippel, Public Order in Ancient Rome (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 100- 
112 . 

20. As from his name it is to be inferred that Lucius is. The author of the 
Onos is more categorical: there both Lucius and his brother Gaius have 
the three names that identify them as Romanized Greeks (ch. 55). 

21. Satires, 1. 147-9, trans. Peter Green. 

22. That is, of being taken for a sorcerer. In one of the Apuleian additions 
to his original Lucius foresees and avoids this danger (3.29), from which 
he is finally secured by Isis (11.6 and note). 

23. Shumate, Crisis and Conversion, p. 311, n. 19. 

24. Gerald Brenan, A Life of One’s Own. Childhood and Youth (Cambridge, 
1979), pp. 77-8. Coleridge had a similar experience (R. Holmes, 

Coleridge. Darker Reflections (1998), p. 38). 

25. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, Part 3, ch. 3, trans. Geoffrey Wall. 

26. A Christmas Carol, Stave V. 

27. Art of Poetry, 102-3, trans. Niall Rudd. 

28. J. Beer, Wordsworth and the Human Heart (1978), pp. 134-5. 

29. Shumate, Crisis and Conversion, pp. 327-8. 

30. Tatum, Apuleius and ‘The Golden Ass’, p. 21. 

31. OLD s.v. aureus 5. 

32. OLD s.v. auritus 1. See Paula James, ‘Fool’s gold... renaming the ass’, 
Groningen Colloquia on the Novel 4 (Groningen, 1991), pp. 155-72. In the 
capital script in which the book would have been first written the two 
words could be easily confused. 

33. So, at the end of the first book of his elegies, Propertius tells his 
readers where he comes from without actually naming himself (1. 22). 
Virgil’s identification of himself at the end of the Georgies is more 
explicit (4. 559-66). 

34. Platonicus nobilis ( City of God, 8. 12). 

35. Tatum, Apuleius and ‘The Golden Ass’, pp. 105-8. For his 
philosophical writings see Walsh (1994), pp. xv-xvii. 

36. D. A. Russell, Plutarch (1972), pp. 75-6, 82. 

37. So usually described after the Latin tide De curiositate, but 
‘meddlesomeness’ is perhaps a more accurate rendering of the Greek 

38. A question on which Augustine was evidently in two minds: did 
Apuleius record his experiences or make them up (City of God, 18. 18)? 

39. See above, n. 9. 

40. For a full analysis see Kenney, Cupid and Psyche, pp. 12-22. 

41. For one of the odder metamorphoses in the book, Cupid’s unexpected 
reversion at the end of the story to Amor II, see 6.22 and note. For a full 
analysis of the plot on these lines see Kenney, ‘Psyche and her mysterious 
husband’, in D. A. Russell (ed.), Antonine Literature (Oxford, 1990), pp. 

42. Here Apuleius can be seen adroitly fudging things. In art Psyche is 
winged; the butterfly, called in Greek psyche, is a common symbol for the 
soul. In Apuleius’ fairytale she is a human princess; the momentarily 

Platonic Psyche-as-soul in a manner, by clinging on to Cupid, acquires 
wings which she loses by letting go of him. 

43. On the recurrence of this term to describe the inserted tales see 1.1 
and note. 

44. The thoughts that pass through his mind at that moment (10.34) 
hardly amount to the revaluation of his activities detected by Shumate 
(Crisis and Conversion, p. 38). 

45. There is little firm evidence: see Walsh, The Roman Novel, pp. 248- 

46. See, for instance, 6.9 and note. 

47. Perry, The Ancient Romances, pp. 211-35. 

48. Winkler, Auctor & Actor, pp. 225-6. 

49. Stephens and Winkler, Ancient Greek Novels, pp. 3-19. 

50. Walsh, The Roman Novel, pp. 36-43. 

51. The account of the robbers’ carouse (4.8, 22) offers striking 
similarities with a fragment of Lollianus’ Phoenicica. Unfortunately it 
cannot be shown who is borrowing from whom (Stephens and Winkler, 
Ancient Greek Novels, pp. 322-5). 

52. As in Fielding’s Tom Jones, where Fortune intervenes some twenty- 
odd times. Is there any other English novel where her role is so 

53. OLD s.v. 1, 2. 

54. About the relationship of the Onos as we have it to Met. scholars 
differ. It is here assumed that its author abridged rather than rewrote his 

55. Two volumes, London, 1708, printed for S. Brisco and sold by J. 
Morphew. Reprinted, two volumes, London, 1821, for E. Wheatley. Other 
editions, in 1709 and 1724, are recorded by the New Cambridge 
Bibliography of English Literature (Cambridge, 1971), 11, 1049. 

56. Grant, revision of Graves, p. xvii. 

57. J. H. W. G. Liebeschiitz, Continuity and Change in Roman Religion 
(Oxford, 1979), PP. 217-20. 

58. OCD s.v. magic; Liebeschiitz, op. cit., pp. 126-39; A. A. Barb, ‘The 
survival of magic arts’, in A. Momigliano (ed.), The Conflict between 
Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford, 1963), pp. 100- 

59. See Elizabeth H. Haight, Apuleius and His Influence (New York, 1927), 

pp. 111-81. 

60. Walsh (1994), pp. xlvi-xlvii. 

61. Apuleius lived during the heyday of the period commonly called the 
Second Sophistic (see OCD, s.v.) when declamatory rhetoric exerted a 
dominating influence over education, literary culture and public life. 
Chairs of rhetoric were established by the emperors in major centres, and 
rhetorical skill was frequently an avenue to high civic or provincial 
office. Travelling lecturers, the so-called Sophists, could attract huge 
audiences to hear elaborate harangues on historical or popular 
philosophical and ethical topics. The Second Sophistic was an almost 
exclusively Greek phenomenon; Apuleius is its only clearly identifiable 
Latin representative (E. Bowie, Cambridge Ancient History, 2nd edn, vol. 
XI (2000), pp. 920-1). On his complementary personae as Platonic 
philosopher and sophist see Sandy, Greek world; Harrison, Apuleius; 
Kenney, ‘In the mill...’. 

Further Reading 

The following list is severely selective and is restricted to works in 
English. The secondary literature on Apuleius and the ancient novel is 
large and constantly growing. Most of the books listed here contain 
bibliographies; those in the Groningen commentaries of Hijmans et al. are 
particularly ample. 


Adlington, W., The xi bookes of the Golden Asse, conteininge the 
Metamorphosie of Lucius Apuleius with the Manage of Cupid and 
Riches (London, 1566 and frequently reprinted). 

— id., revised by S. Gaselee, Loeb Classical Library (New York and 
London, 1915). 

Butler, H. E., The Metamorphoses or Golden Ass of Apuleius of Madaura, 2 
vols. (Oxford, 1910). (Expurgated.) 

Graves, R., The Transformations of Lucius otherwise known as The Golden 
Ass by Lucius Apuleius (Harmondsworth, 1950). 

— id., revised with a new Introduction by M. Grant (Harmonds worth, 

Hanson, J. A. See below, A Note on the Text. 

Walsh, P. G., Apuleius. The Golden Ass (Oxford, 1994; World’s Classics, 

For the Onos see the text and translation by M. D. Macleod in vol. 
VIII of the works of Lucian in the Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, 
Mass, and London, 1967). 


Scobie, A., Apuleius Metamorphoses (Asinus Aureus) I. A Commentary 
(Meisenheim am Glam, 1975). 

van der Paardt, R. T., L. Apuleius Madaurensis. The Metamorphoses. A 
Commentary on Book III with Text & Introduction (Amsterdam, 1971). 

Hijmans, B. L., et al, Apuleius Madaurensis Metamorphoses. Book IV 1-27. 
Text, Introduction and Commentary (Groningen, 1977). 

—Books VI 25-32 and VII (Groningen, 1981). 

— Book VIII (Groningen, 1985). 

— Book IX (Groningen, 1995). 

Zimmerman, M., Book X (Groningen, 2000). 

Gwyn Griffiths, J., Apuleius of Madauros. The Isis-Book (Metamorphoses, 
Book XI) (Leiden, 1975). 

Purser, L. C, The Story of Cupid and Psyche as related by Apuleius [IV 28- 
VI 24] (London, 1910; repr. New Rochelle, 1983). 

Kenney, E. J., Apuleius. Cupid and Psyche [IV 28- VI 24], Cambridge Greek 
and Latin Classics (Cambridge, 1990). 


Hagg, T., The Novel in Antiquity (Oxford, 1983). 

Harrison, S.J. (ed.), Oxford Readings in the Roman Novel (Oxford, 1999). 

— Apuleius. A Latin Sophist (Oxford, 2000). 

James, Paula, Unity in Diversity. A study of Apuleius’ ‘Metamorphoses’ with 
particular reference to the narrator’s art of transformation and the 
metamorphosis motif in the tale of Cupid and Psyche (Hildesheim- 
Ziirich-New York, 1987). 

Kahane, A., and Laird, A. (eds.), A Companion to the Prologue of Apuleius’ 
Metamorphoses (Oxford, 2001). 

Kenney, E. J., ‘In the mill with slaves: Lucius looks back in gratitude’, 
Transactions of the American Philological Society 133 (2003), pp. 159- 

Krabbe, Judith K., The Metamorphoses of Apuleius (New York-Bern- 
Frankfurt am Main-Paris, 1989). 

Perry, B. E., The Ancient Romances. A literary- critical account of their 
origins (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967). 

Sandy, G. N., The Greek World of Apuleius. Apuleius and the Second 
Sophistic (Leiden-New York-Cologne, 1997). 

Schlam, C. C, Cupid and Psyche. Apuleius and the monuments (University 
Park, Pa., 1976). 

— The Metamorphoses of Apuleius. On making an ass of oneself (London, 

Shumate, Nancy, Crisis and Conversion in Apuleius’ ‘Metamorphoses’ (Ann 
Arbor, Mich., 1996). 

Stephens, Susan A., and Winkler, J. J., Ancient Greek Novels: the 
Fragments (Princeton, N.J., 1995). 

Tatum, J., Apuleius and ‘The Golden Ass’ (Ithaca and London, 1979). 

Walsh, P. G., The Roman Novel The ’Satyricon’ ofPetronius and the 
‘Metamorphoses’ of Apuleius (Cambridge, 1970). 

Winkler, J. J., Auctor & Actor. A nanatological reading of Apuleius’ s 
‘Golden Ass’ (Berkeley-Los Angeles-London, 1985). 

A Note on the Text 

The text of The Golden Ass depends on a manuscript written at Monte 
Cassino in Italy in the eleventh century and now in the Biblioteca 
Mediceo-Laurentiana at Florence, Laurentianus 68. 2 (F). From it all other 
extant copies derive. Where its original readings have been defaced by 
wear and tear or correction, they can often be restored from another 
Florentine manuscript of the twelfth or thirteenth century, Laurentianus 
29. 2 ($), which was copied from F when it was more legible than it is 
now. As to how faithfully F transmits what Apuleius wrote, scholars are 
divided. Some, most notably the Groningen commentators, adopt a highly 
conservative approach; others, of whom the present translator is one, 
believe that correction is needed in a good many places. Fortunately it is 
not often that the sense is seriously in doubt, however editors may 
disagree about the form of the expression; and textual comment in the 
Notes has been kept to a minimum. 

The most important critical editions are those of 

van der Vliet, J., Bibliotheca Teubneriana (Leipzig, 1897). 

Helm, R., 3rd edn. with supplement, Bibliotheca Teubneriana (Leipzig, 

Robertson, D. S., 3 vols., Collection Bude (Paris, 1940-45). With French 
translation by P. Vallette. 

Hanson, J. A., 2 vols., Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass, and 
London, 1989). With English translation. 

The Groningen commentaries include a text which generally follows 
that of Helm, with occasional variations. They also incorporate in the 
commentary a paragraph-by-paragraph English translation. 

This translation in the main follows the text of Robertson, but the 
readings of other editors and critics have been occasionally preferred. The 
book divisions are authorial. The chapter divisions given in the margin of 
the text, to which the notes are keyed, are editorial and modern, designed 
primarily to facilitate reference. The paragraphing is the translator’s. 

Provinces of the Roman Empire 
at the death of Antoninus Pius (AD 161} 

G A E T U L I 


Memphis * 





500 Miles 

500 1000 Km 

A E T H I O P I A 

North Africa 

\ * 



Italy and Sicily 


Asia Minor 

* ML Hootu 

Ml Ml 


• Pauirui 



•^>ot n 




0 100 200 Milos 

1 T L — I H 

0 100 200 300 Km 

♦ 2 

Stmoua , 




• Gadara 








300 Milu 

1 r - — i ■ i 

100 200 300 400 500 Km 

Near and Middle East 

John Price ( Latinized as Pricaeus) was born of Welsh parents in London in 
1600. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, 
though as a Roman Catholic he was ineligible to matriculate or graduate. 

He spent much of his life abroad, living and working at various times in 
Paris, Vienna, Florence and Pisa, where he was for a time Professor of 
Greek. He died in about 1676 and was buried in the Augustinian monastery 
in Rome. His commentaries on Apuleius and the New Testament gained him 
a high reputation among his contemporaries; and his edition of The Golden 
Ass, published at Gouda in 1650, is still a valuable resource. 

I Apvieii - 








Prologue in which the author introduces himself - Lucius follows 
suit - on the way to Thessaly - Aristomenes’ story - arrival at 
Hypata and reception by Milo - a puzzling experience in the 
market - hungry to bed 


In quest of witchcraft - meeting with Byrrhena - warned 
against his hostess the witch Pamphile - makes love to the maid 
Photis instead - dinner with Byrrhena - Thelyphron’s story - 
promises to contribute to the Festival of Laughter - encounters 
and slays three desperate robbers 


Tried for murder - all a joke which he does not appreciate - 
Photis explains - watches Pamphile change herself into an owl 
and tries to follow suit - is turned into an ass instead - 
inhospitable reception in the stable -frustrated in attempt to 
break the spell - carried off by robbers 


The robbers’ stronghold - stories of their recent exploits - arrival 
of the kidnapped girl Charite - the robbers’ housekeeper tells 
her the story of Cupid and Psyche to comfort her - the story 


The story of Cupid and Psyche continued 


The story of Cupid and Psyche concluded - Lucius is lamed 
and condemned to death by the robbers - makes a break for 
freedom with Charite on his back - recaptured - Charite 
condemned to death with him 


Haemus appears and takes command - revealed as Charite’s 
lover Tlepolemus in disguise - she is rescued and the robbers 
exterminated - she makes much of Lucius - he is sent out to 
grass - yoked to the mill - attacked by the stallions - persecuted 
by a cruel boy - threatened with castration - blamed for the 
boy’s death 


Tragic deaths of Charite and Tlepolemus - their slaves decamp 
in panic with the animals - misadventures on the way - Lucius 
sold to the priests ofAtargatis - their scandalous activities - 
another death sentence 


A lucky escape - the story of the lover and the jar - the priests 
arrested for theft - Lucius sold to a miller - in the mill again - 
the miller’s evil wife - more stories of adultery - death of the 
miller - sold to a market-gardener - the story of a house 
destroyed - commandeered by the military 

BOOK 10 

The story of the wicked stepmother - sold again - the 
pastrycook and the chef - caught in the act - Lucius the almost 
human - the noble mistress and the ignoble substitute - 
degraded to make a Corinthian holiday - the Judgement of 
Paris - escape to Cenchreae 

BOOK 11 

Vision on the seashore - appeal to Isis - the goddess appears 
and promises rescue - her festival - Lucius himself again - 
devotes himself to the goddess’s service - initiated - goes to 
Rome - two further initiations - promised a distinguished 
future as an advocate and admitted to office in an ancient 
priestly college by Osiris himself - happy at last 


Prologue in which the author introduces himself - 
Lucius follows suit - on the way to Thessaly - 
Aristomenes' story - arrival at Hypata and reception 
by Milo - a puzzling experience in the market - 
hungry to bed 

1 Now, what I propose in this Milesian discourse is to string together 
for you a series of different stories and to charm your ears, kind 
reader, with amusing gossip - always assuming that you are not too 
proud to look at an Egyptian book written with the sharpness of a 
pen from the Nile; and to make you marvel at a story of men’s shapes 
and fortunes changed into other forms and then restored all over 
again. So I’ll begin. But who is this? In brief: Attic Hymettus, the 
Isthmus of Corinth, and Spartan Taenarus, fruitful lands immortalized 
in yet more fruitful books, these make up my ancient ancestry. It was 
there that I served my earliest apprenticeship to the language of 
Athens. Later, arriving in Rome a stranger to its culture, with no 
teacher to show me the way, by my own painful efforts I attacked and 
mastered the Latin language. That then is my excuse, if as an 
unpractised speaker of the foreign idiom of the Roman courts I 
should stumble and give offence. In fact this linguistic 
metamorphosis suits the style of writing I have tackled here - the 
trick, you might call it, of changing literary horses at the gallop. It is a 
Grecian story that I am going to begin. Give me your ear, reader: you 
will enjoy yourself. 


I was on my way to Thessaly - for on my mother’s side our family 
goes back there, being proud to number among our ancestors the 
distinguished philosopher Plutarch and his nephew Sextus - I was 
on my way, I say, to Thessaly on particular business. I had negotiated 
a succession of steep passes, muddy valleys, dewy pastures, and 
sticky ploughlands, and like me, my horse, who was native-bred, a 
pure white animal, was getting pretty tired. Thinking I might shake 
off my own saddle-weariness by a little exercise, I dismounted, wiped 
my horse down, rubbed his forehead scientifically, caressed his ears, 
and took off his bridle; then I led him on at a gentle pace, to let him 
get rid of his fatigue through the natural restorative of a snack. And 
so, while he, with his head turned to the verges as he passed, was 
taking his breakfast on the hoof, I caught up with two fellow 
wayfarers who happened to have gone on a short way ahead. As I 
began to eavesdrop, one was roaring with laughter and saying: ‘Do 

Page 1 

give over lying like that - I’ve never heard anything so utterly 

At that I, thirsting as always for novelty, struck in: ‘No, please,’ I 
said, ‘let me in on this - not that I’m nosy, it’s just that I’m the sort of 
person who likes to know everything, or at least as much as I can. 
And an agreeable and amusing yarn or two will lessen the 

steepness of this hill we’re climbing.’ ‘Yes,’ said the first speaker, 
‘these lies are just as true as it would be to say that because of magic 
rivers can suddenly reverse their flow, the sea be becalmed, the winds 
cease to blow, the sun stand still, the moon be milked of her dew, the 
stars uprooted, the daylight banished, the night prolonged.’ Then I, 
emboldened, said: ‘You, sir, who began this story, please don’t be 
annoyed or too disgusted to tell us the rest’; and to the other man, 
‘But what you are stupidly refusing to listen to and stubbornly pooh- 
poohing may very well be a true report. Really, I think you are being 
ignorant and perverse when you account as a lie anything you’ve 
never heard of or aren’t familiar with the sight of or just find too 
difficult for your understanding to grasp. If you look into these things 
a little more closely, you’ll find out that they 

aren’t only reliably attested but can easily happen. Look at me, 
yesterday evening: trying desperately to keep my end up at dinner, I 
rashly tried to cram down a piece of cheesecake that was too big, and 
the gooey stuff lodged in my throat and blocked my windpipe - I was 
very nearly a goner. Then again, when I was in Athens only the other 
day, in front of the Painted Porch, I saw with these two eyes a juggler 
swallow a sharp cavalry sabre, point first; and then the same man, 
encouraged by a small donation, lowered a hunting spear right down 
into his inside, lethal point first. And then, lo and behold, above the 
blade of the lance, where the shaft of the inverted weapon entered the 
man’s throat and stood up over his head, there appeared a boy, pretty 
as a girl, who proceeded to wreathe himself round it in a bonelessly 
sensuous dance. We were all lost in amazement; you’d have thought 
it was Aesculapius’ own rough-hewn staff, with his sacred serpent 
twining sinuously round it. But sir, please do go on with your story. I 
promise you I’ll believe it even if our friend here won’t, and at the 
first inn we come to I’ll stand you lunch - there’s your payment 


Page 2 

‘Very kind of you,’ he said, ‘but I’ll start my story again in any case, 
thanks all the same. First however let me swear to you by this all- 
seeing divine Sun that what I’m going to tell you really happened; 
and if you get to the next town in Thessaly, you’ll be left in no doubt; 
all this was done in public and everyone there is still talking about it. 
But to let you know who I am, and where I come from: my name is 
Aristomenes, from Aegium. Let me tell you how I get a living: I travel 
all over Thessaly and Aetolia and Boeotia in honey and cheese and 
suchlike innkeeper’s staples. So, hearing that at Hypata - it’s the 
most important place in Thessaly - there was some new and 
particularly tasty cheese on offer at a very reasonable price, I hurried 
off there to put in a bid for the lot. But as tends to happen, I got off 
on the wrong foot and was disappointed in my hope of making a 
killing: a wholesaler called Lupus had bought it all the day before. 

‘So, worn out by my useless hurry, I took myself off at sundown to 
the public baths; and who should I see there but my old friend 
Socrates. He was sitting on the ground, half wrapped in a tattered old 
coat, his face sickly yellow so that I hardly recognized him, miserably 
thin, looking just like one of those bits of Fortune’s flotsam one sees 
begging in the streets. Seeing him looking like this, though as I say I 
knew him extremely well, it was with some hesitation that I went up 
to him. “Socrates, my dear fellow,” I said, “what’s up? Why are you 
looking like this? What have they done to you? Back home you’ve 
been mourned and given up for dead; and your children have been 
assigned guardians by the court. Your wife has given you a formal 
funeral; and now, disfigured by months of grieving and having wept 
herself nearly blind, she’s being urged by her parents to cheer up the 
family misfortunes by getting happily married again. And here are 
you, looking like a ghost and putting us all to shame.” 

‘“Aristomenes,” he said, “you just don’t understand the deceitful 
twists and turns of Fortune, her surprise attacks, her reversals of 
direction,” and as he spoke he covered his face, which had become 
red with shame, with his rags and patches, leaving himself naked 
from navel to groin. I couldn’t bear the pitiful sight of his distress, 

and tried to pull him to his feet. But he, keeping his head covered, 
cried: “Leave me alone, leave me, and let Fortune go on enjoying the 
spectacle of this trophy that she’s set up.” However, I got him to 
come with me, and taking off one of my tunics I dressed or at least 
covered him up with it, and took him off to the baths. I got him oil 

Page 3 

and towels and with much effort scrubbed off the horrible filth he 
was encrusted with; and then when he had been thoroughly put to 
rights (by which time I was worn out myself and was hard put to it 
to hold him up), I took him back to my inn, put him to bed to 
recover, gave him a good dinner and a relaxing glass or two of wine, 
and chatted to him to calm him down. 

‘He was just beginning to talk freely, to crack the odd joke, even to 
get mildly flippant and answer back, when suddenly, heaving an 
excruciating sigh from the depths of his chest and passionately 
slapping his forehead, he broke out: “Gods, what miserable luck! It 
was only because I went in search of a bit of pleasure, to see a 
gladiatorial show I’d heard a lot about, that I got into this dreadful 
mess. As you know, I’d gone to Macedonia on business. I’d been hard 
at it there for nine months, and having made a decent profit I was on 
my way home. Not far from Larissa, where I was planning to see the 
show on my way through, I was waylaid in a wild and watery glen by 
a gang of bandits - absolute monsters - and robbed of everything I 
had, though in the end I escaped with my life. Reduced to this 
desperate state, I took shelter at an inn kept by a woman called 
Meroe, not at all bad-looking for her age. I told her everything, why 
I’d been away so long, my anxiety to get home, and the lamentable 
story of the robbery. She welcomed me more than kindly, treating me 
first to a good dinner, free gratis and for nothing, and then to a share 
of her bed - she really was on heat. And that’s how I came to grief: 
that first night with her was the start of a long and degrading 
association. Even the rags which the robbers had generously left me 
to cover myself with, even those I made over to her, along with the 
pittance I earned as a porter while I was still fit enough for the work. 
And that’s how this worthy wife, so called, and the malevolence of 
Fortune between them have reduced me to what you saw just now.” 

‘“Well, damn it,” I said, “you deserve anything you get and worse 
than that, for preferring the pleasure of fornicating with a leathery 
old hag to your home and children.” But he put his finger to his lips 
and looked utterly horrified. “Shh, quiet,” he said, looking round to 
see that we weren’t overheard. “Don’t talk like that about a woman 
with superhuman powers, or your rash tongue will get you into 
trouble.” “Really?” I said. “What sort of woman is this mighty tavern- 
queen?” “A witch,” he answered, “with supernatural powers; she can 
bring down the sky, raise up the earth, solidify springs, dissolve 
mountains, raise the dead, send the gods down below, blot out the 
stars, and illuminate Hell itself.” “Come on,” I said, “spare me the 

Page 4 

histrionics and let’s have it in plain language.” “Well,” he said, “do 
you want to hear one or two of her exploits? There are lots I could 
tell you about. It’s not only our own people that she can make fall 
madly in love with her, but the Indians, the Ethiopians - both lots - 
even the Antipodeans; that’s nothing, the merest ABC of her art. But 
let me tell you what she did in full view of a crowd of eyewitnesses. 


‘“When one of her lovers was unfaithful to her, with a single word 
she turned him into a beaver, because when they’re afraid of being 
caught beavers escape their pursuers by biting off their balls - the 
idea being that something like that would happen to him. An 
innkeeper, who was a neighbour and therefore a trade rival, she 
changed into a frog; and now the poor old chap swims around in a 
barrel of his own wine and greets his old customers with a polite 
croak as he squats there in the lees. Another time she changed a 
lawyer who appeared against her in court into a ram, and it’s as a 
ram that he now pleads his cases. Again, the wife of another of her 
lovers she condemned to perpetual pregnancy for being witty at her 
expense; she shut up the woman’s womb and halted the growth of 
the foetus, so that it’s now eight years (we’ve all done the sum) that 
this unfortunate creature has been swollen with her burden, as if it 
was an elephant that she was going to produce. 


‘“This sort of thing kept happening, and a lot of people suffered at 
her hands, so that public indignation grew and spread; and a meeting 
was held at which it was decided that on the following day she 
should receive drastic punishment by stoning to death. However, she 
thwarted this move by the strength of her spells - just like the 
famous Medea when, having obtained a single day’s grace from 
Creon, she used it to burn up the old king’s palace, his daughter, and 
himself, with the crown of fire. Just so Meroe sacrificed into a trench 
to the powers of darkness (she told me all this the other day when 
she was drunk), and shut up the whole population in their houses by 
silent supernatural force. For two whole days they couldn’t undo 
their bolts or get their doors open or even break through their walls, 
until in the end they came to an agreement among themselves and all 
called out, swearing by what they held most sacred, that they would 
not lay a finger on her and that if anybody had other ideas they 
would come to her assistance. So she was appeased and let them all 
off, except for the man who had convened the public meeting. Him 
she whisked off at dead of night, with his whole house - walls, 
foundations, the ground it stood on - still shut up, a hundred miles 

Page 5 

away to another town which was situated on the top of a rocky and 
waterless mountain. And since the houses there were too closely 
packed to allow room for another one, she simply dumped it outside 
the town gates and decamped.” 


‘“My dear Socrates,” I said, “what you tell me is as ghastly as it’s 
astonishing. You really have made me very uneasy - no, you’ve 
terrified me. It’s not just a pinprick of anxiety but a positive 
spearthrust that you’ve inflicted - the fear that the old woman may 
invoke some supernatural aid as she’s done before to eavesdrop on 
this conversation. So let’s get to bed straight away, and when we’ve 
slept off our fatigue let’s get as far as possible away from here before 
it’s light.” Before I had finished offering this advice, my friend, who 
had been tried to the limit by so many wearing experiences and more 
wine than he was used to, was fast asleep and snoring noisily. So I 
closed the door and shot the bolts firmly, and also wedged my bed 
hard up against the hinges and lay down on it. At first my fear kept 
me awake for a time, but then about midnight I dropped off. Hardly 
had I done so when suddenly (you wouldn’t think a whole gang of 
robbers could manage such an onslaught) the door was thrown open, 
or rather broken down and torn right off its hinges and sent crashing 
to the ground. My bed, which was only a cot, with a foot missing and 
riddled with worm, was overturned by this violent shock, and I was 
hurled out of it and rolled on to the floor with the bed upside down 
on top of me and hiding me. 


‘Then I discovered that some emotions naturally express themselves 
by their opposites. Just as one very often weeps tears of joy, so then, 
utterly terrified as I was, I couldn’t help laughing at the idea of 
myself as a tortoise. Grovelling there in the dirt I was able from under 
the protection of my resourceful bed to get a sideways view of what 
was happening. I saw two elderly women, one carrying a lighted 
lamp, the other a sponge and a naked sword. So arrayed, they stood 
on either side of Socrates, who was still sound asleep. The one with 
the sword spoke first: “There he is, sister Panthia, my beloved 
Endymion, my Ganymede, who by night and day has played fast and 
loose with my tender youth, who scorns my love, and not content 
with calumniating me is trying to escape me. I take it I’m supposed 
to play abandoned Calypso to his wily Ulysses, left to mourn in 
perpetual solitude?” And then she pointed and indicated me to 
Panthia: “But here we have our friend Aristomenes the Counsellor, 
who is the author of this escape plan and now lies on the ground 

Page 6 

under that bed within a hair’s-breadth of death, watching all this and 
thinking that the injuries he has done me will go unpunished. One 
day - what am I saying, now, this very moment - I’ll make him sorry 
for his past impudence and his present curiosity.” 


‘Hearing this I was in agony, drenched in an icy sweat and shaking 
all over, so that the bed too was convulsed by my shudders and 
heaved up and down on top of me. Then said the amiable Panthia: 
“Now, sister, shall we take this one first and tear him limb from limb 
like Bacchantes, or tie him down and castrate him?” But Meroe - for 
she it was, as I realized from what Socrates had told me - said: “No, 
let him survive to give a modest burial to the body of his poor 
friend,” and twisting Socrates’ head to one side she buried her sword 
up to the hilt in the left-hand side of his throat, catching the blood 
that spurted out in a leather bottle so neatly that not a drop was 
spilled. This I saw with my own eyes. Next dear Meroe, wanting I 
suppose to keep as closely as possible to the sacrificial forms, 
plunged her hand into the wound right down to his entrails, 
rummaged about, and pulled out my poor friend’s heart. At this he 
let out through the wound in his throat, which the violent stroke of 
the sword had totally severed, an inarticulate whistling sound, and 
gave up the ghost. Then Panthia, blocking the gaping wound with 
her sponge, “Now, sponge,” she said, “you were born in the sea - 
take care not to cross a river.” With these words they left, but first 
they pulled the bed off me and squatted down and emptied their 
bladders over my face, leaving me soaked in their filthy piss. 


‘The moment they had gone the door reverted to normal: the hinges 
flew back into position, the bars returned to the doorposts, and the 
bolts shot back into the slot. As for me, I remained where I was, 
grovelling on the floor, fainting, naked, cold and drenched in piss, just 
like a new-born child - or rather half dead, a posthumous survivor of 
myself, an absolutely certain candidate for crucifixion. “What’s going 
to happen to me,” I said to myself, “when he’s found in the morning 
with his throat cut? I can tell the truth, but who’ll believe me? I can 
hear them now. ‘Couldn’t you at least have called for help if you 
couldn’t cope with a woman - a big chap like you? A man murdered 
before your eyes, and not a peep out of you? And how is it that you 
weren’t likewise made away with by these female desperadoes? Why 
should their cruelty have spared a witness who could inform against 
them? So, you escaped Death; now go back to him!”’ 

Page 7 

‘While I was going over this in my mind again and again, the night 
wore on. The best plan then seemed to be to get clear surreptitiously 
before dawn and to take the road, though I had no very clear idea 
where to go. So I shouldered my luggage and tried to undo the bolts; 
but the upright and conscientious door, which earlier had unbarred 
itself so readily, now only opened with much 


reluctance and after many turnings of the key. Then, “Hey, porter,” I 
called, “where are you? Open the front door. I want to be off early.” 
The porter was lying on the ground behind the door and was still half 
asleep. “Have some sense,” he said. “Don’t you know the roads are 
stiff with robbers, and you want to start out at this time of night? 
You may have some crime on your conscience that makes you eager 
to die, but I’m not such a fathead as to want to take your place.” “It’s 
nearly light,” I said, “and anyway, what can robbers take away from a 
traveller who’s got nothing? Don’t be stupid: you know that ten 
wrestlers can’t strip a naked man.” But he, drowsy and half asleep, 
turned over in bed and muttered: “Anyway, how do I know you 
haven’t murdered your companion that you came in with last night 
and aren’t trying to save yourself by doing a bunk?” 

‘At that moment, I remember, I saw the earth opening and the 
depths of Hell, and Cerberus hungering for me; and I realized that it 
wasn’t in pity that dear old Meroe had spared my life, but in a 


spirit of sadism, saving me for the cross. So I went back to my room 
to mull over the form my suicide was to take. Since the only lethal 
weapon provided by Fortune was my bed, “Now, now, O bed,” I 
cried, “my dearest bed, thou who hast endured with me so many 
sufferings, confidant and beholder of the night’s happenings, the only 
witness to my innocence that I can call against my accusers, do you 
provide me as I hasten to the shades with the weapon that shall save 
me.” With these words I set about undoing the cord with which it 
was strung and made one end of it fast to a beam which jutted out 
under the window; the other end I knotted firmly into a noose, and 
then climbing on the bed and mounting to my doom I put my head 
into the halter. But when I kicked the support away, so that the rope, 
tightened round my throat by my weight, should cut off the function 
of my breathing - at that moment the rotten old rope broke, and I fell 
from where I was standing on to Socrates, 


Page 8 

who lay nearby, and rolled with him on to the floor. And precisely at 
that very same moment the porter burst abruptly in, shouting: 
“Where are you? You wanted to be off at dead of night, and now 
you’re back in bed and snoring!” At this, aroused either by my fall or 
the porter’s raucous bellowing, Socrates was on his feet first, 
remarking: “No wonder travellers hate all innkeepers! Look at this 
officious oaf, shoving in where he’s not wanted - to see what he can 
steal, I expect - and waking me up with his noise when I was fast 
asleep and still tired out.” 

‘I then got up too, happily revived by this unexpected stroke of 
luck. “There, O most faithful of porters,” I said, “you see my 
companion and brother, the one that last night, when you were 
drunk, you accused me of murdering”; and as I spoke I embraced 
Socrates and kissed him. He was shocked by the smell of the foul 
fluid with which the witches had drenched me, and pushed me 
violently away, shouting “Get off me, you stink like the worst kind of 
urinal”, and then proceeded to ask me facetiously why I smelled like 
that. Embarrassed and on the spur of the moment I cracked some 
stupid joke to divert his attention to another subject. Then, slapping 
him on the back, I said: “Come on, let’s be off and enjoy an early 
start.” So, shouldering my traps, I paid the bill, and we set out. 


‘When we had gone some way the sun rose; and now that it was 
fully light, I looked very closely at my friend’s neck where I had seen 
the sword go in, and I said to myself: “You’re crazy; you were dead 
drunk and had a horrible dream. There’s Socrates whole, sound and 
unharmed. Where’s the wound? Where’s the sponge? And where’s 
the fresh deep scar?” Aloud I said: “The doctors are quite right when 
they tell us that eating and drinking too much causes nightmares. 
Look at me; I had a drop too much yesterday evening, and I passed a 
night of such dreadful threatening dreams that I still can’t believe I’m 
not spattered and defiled with human gore.” He smiled and said: “It’s 
not blood but piss you were drenched with. But to tell the truth, I too 
had a dream, that my throat was cut; I had a pain there, and I 
thought the heart was plucked out of me - and even now I feel faint, 
my knees are trembling and I can’t walk properly. I think I need 
something to eat to put the life back in me.” “Right,” I answered, 
“I’ve got some breakfast all ready for you,” and taking off my 
knapsack I quickly gave him some bread and cheese, adding, “let’s sit 
down under that plane tree.” 


Page 9 

‘This we did, and I too had a little something. He was eating 
greedily, but as I watched him, I saw that his face was becoming 
drawn and waxy pale, and his strength seemed to be ebbing away. 
Indeed he was so altered by this deathly change of complexion that I 
panicked, thinking of those Furies of last night; and the first piece of 
bread I’d taken, not a very big one, lodged right in my throat and 
refused either to go down or to come back up. What increased my 
alarm was that there was almost nobody about. Who was going to 
believe that one of a pair of companions had been done in without 
foul play on the part of the other? Meanwhile Socrates, having made 
short work of the food, became desperately thirsty, as well he might, 
having wolfed down the best part of a first-rate cheese. Not far from 
the plane tree there flowed a gentle stream, its current so slow that it 
looked like a placid pool, all silver and glass. “There,” I said, “quench 
your thirst in that limpid spring.” He got up, and finding a place that 
sloped down to the water, he knelt and leaned over eagerly to drink. 
He had hardly touched the surface with his lips when the wound in 
his throat gaped wide open to the bottom and the sponge shot out, 
followed by a little blood. His lifeless body nearly pitched headlong 
into the water, but I managed to get hold of one foot and drag him 
laboriously up the bank. There, after mourning him as best I could in 
the circumstances, I covered my unfortunate friend with the sandy 
soil to rest there for ever by the river. Then, panic-stricken and in 
fear of my life, I made my escape through remote and pathless 
wildernesses; and like a man with murder on his conscience I left 
country and home to embrace voluntary exile. And now I have 
remarried and live in Aetolia.’ 


That was Aristomenes’ story. His companion, who from the start 
had remained stubbornly incredulous and would have no truck with 
what he told us, broke out: ‘Of all the fairytales that were ever 
invented, of all the lies that were ever told, that takes the biscuit’; and 
turning to me, ‘But you,’ he said, ‘to judge from your dress and 
appearance you’re an educated man - do you go along with this 
stuff?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘my opinion is that nothing is impossible and 
that we mortals get whatever the Fates have decided for us. You, I, 
everybody, we all meet with many amazing and unprecedented 
experiences, which aren’t believed when they’re told to somebody 
who lacks first-hand knowledge of them. But I do, I assure you, 
believe our friend here, and I’m most grateful to him for diverting us 
with such a charming and delightful story. Here I’ve got to the end of 
this long and rugged road without effort and haven’t been bored. I 
believe my horse too thinks you’ve done him a favour, for without 

Page 10 

tiring him I see I’ve reached the city gates transported not on his 
back but, you might say, by my ears.’ 


That was the end both of our conversation and of our 
companionship, since they now turned off to the left towards a 
nearby farm, while I went into the first inn I saw and questioned the 
old woman who kept it. ‘Is this town Hypata?’ I asked. She nodded. 
‘Do you know somebody called Milo - one of your foremost citizens?’ 
She laughed and said: ‘Yes, you could call him foremost all right - he 
lives right outside the city wall.’ ‘Joking apart, mother,’ I said, ‘tell 
me, please, who he is and where he lives.’ ‘Do you see those 
windows at the end there,’ she replied, ‘that look outwards towards 
the city, and on the other side a door giving at the back on to the 
neighbouring alleyway? That’s his house. He’s enormously rich, with 
money to burn, but he’s a public disgrace, the lowest kind of miser, 
and lives in total squalor. He’s a usurer on the grand scale and only 
accepts gold and silver as pledges; he shuts himself up in that tiny 
house and broods over the corroded coins that are his ruling passion. 
He has a wife to share his miserable existence, but his whole 
household consists of one slave-girl, and he always dresses like a 

This made me laugh. ‘It’s a really good turn my friend Demeas did 
me when I set out on my travels,’ I said, ‘giving mean introduction to 
a man like that. At least I needn’t fear annoyance from kitchen 


smokes and smells!’ So saying I walked on and came to the door of the 
house, which I found firmly bolted. I proceeded to bang on it and 
shout, and at last a girl appeared. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘after all that 
energetic knocking, what security are you offering for a loan? You 
must be aware that the only pledges we accept here are gold and 
silver.’ ‘God forbid,’ I said; ‘what I want to know is whether your 
master is at home.’ ‘Yes, he is,’ said she, ‘but why do you want to 
know?’ ‘I’ve got a letter for him from Demeas of Corinth.’ ‘Stay 
where you are,’ she said, ‘and I’ll tell him,’ and bolting the door again 
she disappeared. Presently she reappeared and unbolted it, saying: 
‘He says, come in.’ 

In I went, and found him reclining on a very small couch and just 
beginning dinner, with his wife sitting at his feet. By them stood a 
table with nothing on it, and indicating this, ‘Welcome to our guest,’ 
said he. ‘Thank you,’ I said, and gave him Demeas’ letter, which he 
read quickly. ‘I’m most grateful to my friend Demeas,’ he 

Page 11 


said, ‘for sending me so distinguished a guest,’ and making his wife 
get up he invited me to sit down in her place. When I modestly 
hesitated, he pulled me down by the tunic, saying: ‘Sit here. We are 
so afraid of burglars that we can’t provide couches or proper 
furniture.’ I did so, and he went on: ‘I should have guessed rightly 
that you were of good family from your gentlemanly appearance and 
your - if I may say so - virginal modesty, even if my friend Demeas 
hadn’t told me so in his letter. So, please don’t despise my humble 
shack. There’s a bedroom just here where you’ll be decently 
accommodated; enjoy your stay with us. By honouring our house 
with your presence you’ll enhance its reputation, and you’ll be 
following a glorious example by putting up with a humble lodging 
and so emulating the achievements of the hero Theseus after whom 
your father is named - he, you remember, didn’t despise old Hecale’s 
frugal hospitality. Photis,’ he said, calling the maid, ‘take our guest’s 
luggage and stow it safely in his room, and then quickly get out of the 
store-cupboard some oil and towels for massage and drying, and 
anything else he needs, and show our guest the way to the nearest 
baths. He’s had a long hard journey and must be worn out.’ 


Hearing this, and bearing in mind Milo’s character and his 
meanness, I decided to get further into his good books. ‘Thanks,’ I 
said, ‘but I don’t need any of those things, which I always take with 
me on my travels; and I can easily ask the way to the baths. It’s my 
horse that is the important thing; he’s carried me well. Here’s some 
money, Photis; please get him some hay and barley.’ That done, and 
my things stowed in my room, I set off for the baths on my own; but 
wanting first to see about something for our supper, I made for the 
provision market. Seeing some fine fish offered for sale I asked the 
price, which was a hundred sesterces; I demurred, and got them for 
eighty. I was just leaving when I met Pytheas, a fellow student at 
Athens. Recognizing me with delight after such a long time he rushed 
at me and embraced and kissed me affectionately. ‘My dear Lucius,’ 
he said, ‘it’s ages since we last saw each other, not indeed since we 
left Clytius’ class. But what are you doing here so far from home?’ 
‘I’ll tell you tomorrow,’ I said. ‘But what’s all this? My 
congratulations - for I see you with attendants and fasces and 
everything about you that befits a magistrate.’ ‘I’m an aedile,’ he said. 
‘I regulate prices; if you want to do any shopping here, I’ll take care 
of it.’ I declined the offer, as I had provided myself amply with fish 
for supper. But Pytheas, looking at my basket and shaking up the fish 

Page 12 

to get a better sight of them, asked: ‘What did you give for this 
rubbish?’ ‘I had a job,’ I said, ‘to get the fishmonger to take eighty 


When I said this, he immediately seized me by the arm and took me 
back again to the market. ‘Who did you buy this muck from?’ he 
asked. I showed him an old man sitting in a corner, and he began to 
upbraid him sharply in his inspectorial capacity. ‘So,’ he said, ‘this 
is the way you impose on my friends and visitors in general, putting 
ridiculous prices on your rubbishy fish and reducing our town, the 
pride of Thessaly, to a barren wilderness by making food so dear. But 
you’re not getting away with it: I’ll show you how roguery is going to 
be checked under my regime,’ and emptying my basket on the ground 
he ordered his clerk to tread on my fish and trample them to pulp. 
Then, pleased with this display of severity, my friend Pytheas sent 
me on my way with the words: ‘I think, Lucius, that that old man has 
been properly put in his place.’ Astonished and completely bemused 
by all this, I took myself off to the baths, deprived of both my money 
and my supper by the energetic measures of my sagacious fellow 
student. Having had my bath, I came back to Milo’s house and went 
to my room. 

The maid Photis now appeared, saying: ‘The master is asking for 
you.’ Knowing Milo’s parsimonious habits I made polite excuses, 
saying that it was sleep rather than food I felt I needed to restore me 
after the wear and tear of my journey. This message produced Milo 
himself. Taking me by the arm he tried gently to make me 
accompany him; and when I hesitated and put up a mild resistance, 
he said: ‘I won’t leave the room unless you come with me,’ backing 
his words with an oath. Yielding reluctantly to his persistence I was 
led to that couch of his and sat down. ‘Now,’ he asked, ‘how is my 
friend Demeas? and his wife? and the children? and the servants?’ I 
gave him all the details. Then he questioned me about the reasons for 
my journey. I told him all that. Then it was my home town, its 
leading men, the governor himself, that were the subjects of minute 
inquiries. Finally, realizing that, on top of the stresses and strains of 
my journey, the additional fatigue of this long conversation was 
making me nod off in the middle of my sentences and that I was so 
worn out that I was muttering disconnected words that made no 
sense, he at last let me go to bed. So, not before time, I escaped from 
this tiresome old man and the interrogation plus starvation that was 
his idea of entertainment; and weighed down, not with food but 

Page 13 

sleep, having dined solely on conversation, I went back to my room 
and surrendered myself to the repose that I was longing for. 

Page 14 


In quest of witchcraft - meeting with Byrrhena - 
warned against his hostess the witch Pamphile - 
makes love to the maid Photis instead - dinner with 
Byrrhena - Theluphron's story - promises to 
contribute to the Festival of Laughter - encounters 
and slays three desperate robbers 

1 The moment the sun put the darkness to flight and ushered in a new 
day, I woke up and arose at once. Being in any case an all too eager 
student of the remarkable and miraculous, and remembering that I 
was now in the heart of Thessaly, renowned the whole world over as 
the cradle of magic arts and spells, and that it was in this very city 
that my friend Aristomenes’ story had begun, I examined attentively 
everything I saw, on tenterhooks with keen anticipation. There was 
nothing I looked at in the city that I didn’t believe to be other than 
what it was: I imagined that everything everywhere had been changed 
by some infernal spell into a different shape - I thought the very 
stones I stumbled against must be petrified human beings, I thought 
the birds I heard singing and the trees growing around the city walls 
had acquired their feathers and leaves in the same way, and I thought 
the fountains were liquefied human bodies. I expected statues and 
pictures to start walking, walls to speak, oxen and other cattle to utter 
prophecies, and oracles to issue suddenly from the very sky or from 
the bright sun. 


So, spellbound and in a daze of tormented longing I went on 
prowling, though nowhere did I meet with the slightest trace of what 
I hoped to find. While wandering from house to house like some 
reveller out on the town, I found myself unexpectedly in the 
provision market. There I saw a woman passing by with a train of 
attendants, and hurried to overtake her. From her gold-mounted 
jewellery and the gold embroidery on her dress it was clear that she 
was a person of some consequence. Walking with her was an old 
man; the moment he saw me, ‘My God,’ he cried, ‘it’s Lucius for 
sure,’ and he embraced me and whispered in the woman’s ear 
something I didn’t catch. ‘Now,’ he said to me, ‘won’t you come and 
greet your foster-mother?’ ‘No, really,’ I answered, ‘I don’t know the 
lady,’ and I hung back blushing and shamefaced. But she looked at me 
and said: ‘Yes, he’s his sainted mother Salvia all over - it shows in his 
breeding and modesty. And his looks - it’s uncanny, he couldn’t be 
more like her: moderately tall, slim but muscular, nice complexion, a 

Page 15 

natural blond, simple hairstyle, eyes grey but alert and bright, really 
like an eagle’s, a blooming countenance, a 

graceful but unaffected walk.’ And she went on: ‘It was I, Lucius, who 
brought you up with my own hands - naturally, being not only 
related to your mother but having shared a common upbringing. 
Both of us are descended from Plutarch, and we had the same wet- 
nurse and grew up together in the bond of sisterhood. The only 
difference between us is one of rank: she made a brilliant marriage, I 
a modest one. Yes, I’m Byrrhena: I expect you’ve often heard my 
name mentioned as that of one of those who brought you up. So you 
needn’t hesitate to accept the hospitality of my house - or rather of 
your own, for yours it now is.’ While she was speaking I had had 
time to recover from my confusion. ‘My dear mother,’ I said, ‘I can’t 
very well throw over my present host Milo, having no cause for 
complaint, but I’ll do my best consistently with my obligation to him. 
Whenever I can find a reason for coming this way in future, I’ll 
always stay with you.’ Chatting like this we came after a short walk 
to Byrrhena’s house. 

There was a magnificent entrance-hall, with a column at each of its 
four corners supporting a statue of Victory. Each of these, wings 
outspread, appeared to hover without alighting on the unstable 
foothold of her rolling ball, which her dewy feet just brushed, not 
standing fixed but seemingly poised in flight. In the exact centre of 
the hall stood a Diana in Parian marble. It was a brilliant tour de force 
of sculpture: as one entered the room the goddess with flowing tunic 
seemed to be coming straight at one in her swift course, inspiring 
awe by her powerful godhead. To right and left she was flanked by 
hounds, also of marble. Their look was menacing, their ears pricked, 
their nostrils flaring, their jaws ravening, and if any barking were 
heard nearby, you’d think it came from those stony throats. The 
crowning achievement of this accomplished sculptor’s craftsmanship 
was that, while the hind feet of the dogs were braced firmly against 
the ground as they sprang forward, their front feet seemed to be 
running. Behind the goddess there arose a rock in the shape of a 
grotto, with moss and grass and leaves and branches, vines here and 
shrubs there, a whole plantation in stone. From inside the grotto the 
statue was reflected back in all its brilliance by the polished marble. 
Round the edge of the rock there hung grapes and other fruits so 
cunningly modelled that art had outdone nature in making them seem 
real. One would think that when at the time of the vintage the breath 

Page 16 

of autumn had ripened and coloured them, they could be picked and 
eaten; and when one stooped to look at the spring which gushed out 
at the goddess’s feet and rippled away in a gentle stream, one would 
think the hanging clusters were not only real in every other way but 
were actually moving. From the middle of the foliage there peered 
out a figure of Actaeon in stone with his prurient gaze fixed on the 
goddess, the transformation into a stag already begun; one could see 
both him and his reflection in the spring as he waited for Diana to 
take her bath. 

As I was examining every detail of the group with the utmost 
enjoyment, ‘Everything you see,’ said Byrrhena, ‘is yours’; and so 
saying she took the others aside and told them to leave us. When they 
had gone she turned to me, saying: ‘My dearest Lucius, I’m terribly 
worried about you - for I look on you as a son and want to see you 
securely provided for. Do, I implore you by Diana there, do be 
warned by me: watch out for the wicked wiles and criminal 
enticements of that woman Pamphile, the one that’s married to Milo, 
him you call your host. Never lower your guard. They say she’s a 
top-class witch, mistress of every kind of graveyard spell. By merely 
breathing on twigs or pebbles or any kind of small object she can 
plunge the light of the starry heavens above us into the depths of 
Tartarus and primeval chaos. The moment she sees a handsome 
young man, she becomes possessed by his charms and has no eyes or 
thoughts for anything else. She lavishes endearments on him, moves 
in on his heart, and binds him in everlasting bonds of insatiable love. 
And anyone who won’t cooperate or gets written off for not fancying 
her, she instandy turns into a rock or a sheep or some other animal, 
and some she simply eliminates. That’s what I’m afraid of for you, 
and what I’m telling you to beware of. She’s always on heat, and you 
with your youth and looks would be just what the doctor ordered.’ 

Byrrhena’s words showed how worried she was for me. However, 
with my usual curiosity, directly I heard the magic word ‘magic’, so 
far from resolving to steer clear of Pamphile, I itched to enrol myself 
as her pupil and to pay handsomely for the privilege - in a word to 
take a running leap right into the abyss. So in a delirium of 
impatience I extracted myself from Byrrhena’s embrace as if her 
hands had been manacles and bidding her a hasty goodbye I hurried 
off at speed back to Milo’s. As I rushed along like a maniac, ‘Now, 
Lucius,’ I said to myself, ‘watch your step and keep a cool head. 
Here’s the chance you’ve dreamed of, what you’ve always wanted. 

Page 17 

You’ll be able to enjoy wonderful stories to your heart’s content. 
Never mind childish fears, get to grips with the thing bravely. 
Granted, you’d better keep clear of any amorous involvement with 
your hostess and religiously respect the virtuous Milo’s marital 
couch, but Photis the maid - you can go all out to make a conquest 
of her. She’s a pretty little thing, likes a joke, and is no fool. Why, 
when you went to bed last night, how sociably she took you to your 
room, how sweetly she helped you into bed, how lovingly she tucked 
you up and kissed your forehead! You could see from her face how 
reluctant she was to leave you; and she kept stopping to look back at 
you. It may be risky, but I’ll have a go at Photis, and good luck to us!’ 

While I was arguing the matter out with myself I had arrived at 
Milo’s door, and proceeded, as they say, to vote with my feet. I found 
neither Milo nor his wife at home, but only my dear Photis. She was 
getting dinner ready: pork rissoles, a succulent stew... and - I could 
smell it from outside - a splendidly savoury pate. She was wearing a 
neat linen tunic, with a bright red waistband seductively gathered up 
high under her breasts. Her pretty hands were engaged in stirring the 
pot with a brisk circular movement, to which her whole body kept 
time in a sinuous response, while her hips and supple spine swayed 
in a delightful undulating rhythm. I stood in amazement, my 
attention riveted, admiring the sight; and something else stood to 
attention as well. Finally I said: ‘How prettily, darling Photis, you’re 
stirring that pot, and what a jolly rearguard action! That’s a delicious 
stew that you’re cooking! It’d be a lucky chap with nothing more to 
wish for in this world that you allowed to dip his finger in there.’ To 
which the witty little baggage answered: ‘You stay away, right away, 
from my little hearth, or it’ll be the worse for you. You’ve only to be 
touched by my tiniest spark, and you’ll take fire and burn deep down 
inside you - and nobody will be able to put out the flames but me. I 
know all the recipes, and I’m equally good at keeping things on the 
move in the kitchen and in bed.’ 

As she said this, she looked at me and laughed. But I lingered there 
to drink in every detail of her appearance. As to the rest of her, I’ve 
nothing to say: it’s only a woman’s head and her hair that I’m really 
interested in. It’s what I like to feast my eyes on first in the street, 
and then enjoy in private indoors. There are good and positive 
reasons for this preference. The hair is the dominant part of the 
body: it’s placed in the most obvious and conspicuous position and is 
the first thing we notice. The rest of the body achieves its effect 

Page 18 

through brightly coloured clothes, the hair through its natural sheen. 
In fact most women, when they want to show off their personal 
attractions, discard their clothes altogether and remove all covering, 
eager to display their beauty naked, and reckoning that rosy skin will 
please better than gold fabric. If on the other hand - though it’s 
blasphemy even to mention it, and I devoutly hope that such a thing 
will never happen to make the point - if you were to despoil the 
head of even the most beautiful of women of its hair and rob her face 
of its natural adornment, though she had come down from heaven, 
though she had been born from the sea and reared among the waves, 
I say though she were Venus herself, escorted by her choir of all the 
Graces and the whole tribe of Cupids, wearing her cestus, fragrant 
with cinnamon and dripping with perfumes - if 

she were bald, not even her Vulcan would love her. Then there is the 
fascination of its colour and sheen: now vivid enough to outshine the 
rays of the sun, now gently reflecting them; or varying its charm as 
its colour varies and contrasts - sometimes bright gold shading down 
into pale honey, sometimes raven-black with dark blue highlights 
like those on the necks of doves; or when, perfumed with Arabian 
essences and delicately parted, it is gathered behind to give back to 
the lover’s gaze a more flattering reflection; or again when it is so 
abundant that it is piled high on top of the head, or so long that it 
flows right down the back. In a nutshell, hair is so important that 
whatever adornments a woman may appear in - gold, jewels, fine 
clothes - unless she’s made the most of her hair, you can’t call her 
properly dressed. As for my dear Photis, it wasn’t that she had taken 
great pains with her hairstyle - it was its casualness that was so 
fetching. Her luxuriant tresses were carelessly flung back, hanging 
down her neck and over her shoulders; where they just touched the 
upper edge of her tunic she had gently looped them up and gathered 
the ends together into a knot on the top of her head. 


I couldn’t stand this exquisite agony of pleasure any longer, and 
leaning over her I planted the most honey-sweet of kisses just where 
her hair began its climb to the top. She turned her head, and looking 
at me sideways with fluttering lashes, ‘Steady on, youngster,’ she 
said, ‘that’s a bittersweet morsel you’re sampling there. Watch out 
that too much sweet honey doesn’t bring on a chronic case of 
acidity.’ ‘I’ll risk it, sweetheart,’ I said; ‘just refresh me with a single 
kiss, and I’m all ready to be spitted and roasted over that fire of 
yours,’ and so saying I hugged her tight and began to kiss her. By now 

Page 19 

her passion was beginning to match and rival my own; her mouth 
opened wide, and her perfumed breath and the ambrosial thrust of 
her tongue as it met mine revealed her answering desire. ‘This is 
killing me,’ I said. ‘I’m really done for unless you’re going to be kind 
to me.’ Kissing me again, ‘Keep calm,’ she said, ‘I feel just the same, 
and I’m all yours, body and soul. Our pleasure shan’t be put off any 
longer; I’ll come to your room at dusk. Now that’s enough; go and 
prepare yourself, for it’s going to be a non-stop battle all night long, 
with no holds barred.’ 


After a few more endearments of this kind we parted. Midday 
arrived, and there came from Byrrhena a welcoming present in the 
shape of a fat piglet, five pullets, and a flagon of vintage wine. ‘Look,’ 
I said, calling Photis, ‘here’s Bacchus come of his own accord as 
Venus’ supporter and squire. We’ll drink every drop of this tonight; 
it’ll put paid to any shyness or backwardness on our part and tune 
our desires to concert pitch. When one embarks for Cythera the only 
provisions one needs for a wakeful voyage are plenty of oil in the 
lamp and wine in the cup.’ 

The rest of the day was taken up with bath and dinner; for I had 
been invited to take my place at my friend Milo’s elegant table and 
sample his delicate fare. Remembering Byrrhena’s warnings I avoided 
his wife’s gaze as much as I could, dropping my eyes before hers as if 
in fear of the bottomless pit. However, I kept encouraging myself by 
glancing over my shoulder at Photis, who was waiting on us. When 
evening began to fall, Pamphile looked at the lamp and said: ‘We’ll 
have a cloudburst tomorrow’; and when her husband asked her how 
she knew she just said that the lamp had predicted it. Milo laughed at 
this, saying: ‘That’s quite a prophetess that we keep here, this lamp 
which observes everything that happens in the heavens from her 
stand - or should I say her observatory?’ 


At this I struck in. ‘That’s just the ABC of this method of 
divination,’ I said. ‘In fact it’s not surprising that this little flame, 
though it’s produced by human agency, has divine foreknowledge of 
what that greater celestial fire is going to bring about in high heaven 
and is able to communicate it to us, being, so to speak, its offspring 
and sharing consciousness with it. Why, at this very moment there is 
a Chaldean staying in Corinth, where I come from, who’s throwing 
the whole city into turmoil by his wonderful oracles, and publishing 
the secrets of Fate to all and sundry for cash down. He’ll tell you the 

Page 20 

best day for making a lasting marriage or building a wall that won’t 
fall down, the most suitable for business, the safest for a journey, the 
most appropriate for a sea voyage. When I asked him how this trip 
of mine would turn out he told me all sorts of different things, all 
equally marvellous: that I should win a brilliant reputation and 
become a legend, an incredible romance in several volumes.’ 


Milo smiled. ‘What does this Chaldean of yours look like?’ he asked, 
‘and what’s he called?’ ‘He’s tall,’ I said, ‘and rather dark- 
complexioned. His name’s Diophanes.’ ‘That’s him,’ said Milo, ‘the 
very man. He came here too and uttered a great many prophecies to a 
great many people. He did quite well, indeed he made a very tidy 
thing out of it, but then he unfortunately came into collision with 
Fortune in her most perverse, or rather adverse, mood. He was 
issuing his predictions one day in the middle of a dense crowd of 
bystanders when a businessman called Cerdo came up wanting to 
know the best day for a journey. He got his answer, and had taken out 
his purse, produced his money and counted out a hundred denarii as 
the fee for the prophecy, when a fashionable young man came up 
quietly behind Diophanes and twitched his cloak. When he turned 
round he found himself embraced and affectionately kissed. He kissed 
the young man back and asked him to sit down beside him; and being 
taken completely aback by this sudden arrival forgot the business he 
was engaged in. “I’ve been expecting you,” he began; “have you been 
here long?” “Only since yesterday evening,” the other answered. “But 
tell me, my dear fellow, how your land and sea journey went after 
you had to leave Euboea in such a hurry.” 


‘At this our worthy Chaldean Diophanes, still confused and not 14 
master of himself, “It was frightful,” he answered, “positively 
Ulyssean - I wouldn’t have wished it on my worst enemy. The ship 
we were on was so battered by storms and winds from every quarter 
that she lost both her rudders and was driven on to the further shore, 
which she just made before sinking. We lost all our possessions and 
had to swim for our lives. Then everything that charitable strangers 
and kind friends had contributed was taken from us by a gang of 
robbers; and when my only brother Arignotus tried to resist their 
violence, he was murdered before my eyes.” Before he had finished 
this lamentable story, Cerdo swept up the money he had intended for 
the fee and left abruptly. Only then did Diophanes come to his senses 
and realize what he had lost through his lack of forethought, seeing 
all us bystanders doubled up with laughter. However, master Lucius, 

Page 21 

let’s hope that our Chaldean told you the truth for once, and the best 
of luck to you for your journey.’ 


While Milo continued to hold forth in this vein, I was inwardly 
groaning, horribly annoyed with myself for having gone out of my 
way to start this series of irrelevant anecdotes, and so wasting a good 
part of the evening and its delightful enjoyments. In the end I said to 
him bluntly: ‘Well, Diophanes must take his chance. I only hope that 
what he plunders from the public he again bestows in equal shares 
on land and sea. As for me, I’m still dog-tired from yesterday, so if 
you’ll excuse me, I’ll go to bed early.’ So, saying goodnight, I left 
them and went to my room, where I found everything most elegantly 
arranged for our supper. Beds had been made up on the ground for 
the slaves some way from the door, to keep them from overhearing 
the sounds of our lovemaking. By my bed was a table with all the 
nicest left-overs from dinner, good-sized cups already half full of 
wine only waiting to be diluted, and the flagon standing by opened 
and all ready to pour - just what was needed to prepare lovers for the 
duels to come. 


I had only just got into bed when Photis, having seen her mistress 
settled for the night, appeared smiling, with a wreath of roses in her 
hair and a bunch of blooms tucked in her breast. She kissed me 
lovingly, garlanded me, and scattered blossoms over me; then she 
took a cup of wine and pouring warm water into it offered it to me. 
Before I had quite finished it she gently took it from me and drank 
what was left in a most bewitching manner, sipping in minute 
instalments and gazing at me as she did so. A second and a third cup 
passed back and forth between us, followed by several others, until at 
last I was well under the influence. Mind and body alike were 
throbbing with desire, and finally I couldn’t control the impatience 
that was killing me. Lifting my tunic for a moment I showed Photis 
that my love could brook no more delay. ‘Have pity on me,’ I said, 
‘and come to my rescue - fast. That war that you declared without 
any diplomatic overtures will break out any minute now, and you 
can see I’m standing to arms and fully mobilized for it. Since I got 
cruel Cupid’s first arrow right in the heart, my own bow has been 
strung so hard that I’m afraid it’s overstrung and may break. But if 
you really want to please me, let your hair down when you come to 
bed so that it flows in waves all over us.’ 


Page 22 

Without more ado she quickly cleared away the table and whipped 
off every stitch of clothing; then with her hair loose in delightful 
disarray she was prettily transformed before my eyes into Venus 
Anadyomene, shading her smooth femininity with her rosy fingers - 
more from a desire to provoke than to protect her modesty. ‘Now 
fight,’ she said, ‘and fight stoutly; I shan’t give ground or turn tail. 
Attack head on, if you call yourself a man; no quarter given; die in 
the breach. There’ll be no discharge in this war.’ Then climbing on 
the bed she let herself down slowly on top of me; and rising and 
falling at a brisk trot and sinuously rocking her supple body 
backwards and forwards she regaled me to repletion with the delights 
of Venus in the saddle, until exhausted and totally drained in body 
and soul alike we simultaneously collapsed, panting for breath, in 
each other’s arms. In encounters of this kind we passed the whole 
night until dawn without a wink of sleep, from time to time resorting 
to the wine cup to reinvigorate ourselves, stimulate our desire and 
renew our pleasure. That was the pattern for many subsequent 

One day Byrrhena insisted that I should have dinner with her, and 
though I made all sorts of excuses she would not take no for an 
answer. So I had to go to Photis and as it were take the auspices from 
her. She was reluctant to let me out of her sight, but kindly granted 
me a short furlough from our campaign of love. ‘But look here,’ she 
said, ‘mind you get back early. There’s a gang of young idiots of good 
family disturbing the public peace just now. You can see murdered 
men lying in the open street, and the provincial police are stationed 
too far away to save the city from these killings. You’re well off and 
an obvious target, and as you’re a stranger they won’t be bothered 
about repercussions.’ ‘Don’t worry, Photis dear,’ I said. ‘Apart from 
the fact that I’d have preferred my pleasures at home to dining out, 
I’ll set your fears at rest by coming back early. And I shan’t go alone 
either. My trusty sword will be strapped to my side, so I shall be 
carrying the wherewithal to protect my life.’ 


So equipped and forewarned I went out to dinner. I found a large 
company there and, as you would expect in the house of such a great 
lady, the pick of local society. The sumptuous tables were of 
polished citron-wood and ivory, and the generous wine cups were all 
alike valuable in their different styles of beauty. Some were of glass 
skilfully decorated in relief, some of flawless crystal, some of shining 
silver or gleaming gold or amber hollowed out with wonderful art, 

Page 23 

and there were gems to drink from - you name it, it was there, 
possible or not. Great numbers of footmen in splendid liveries were 
defdy serving one ample course after another, while boy slaves, 
curly-haired and prettily dressed, kept on offering vintage wine in 
cups fashioned from whole gemstones. Now the lamps had been 
brought in, and the convivial talk reached a crescendo, with hearty 
laughter and witty quips and pleasantries flying back and forth. At 
this point Byrrhena asked me: ‘Are you enjoying your stay here? My 
own belief is that when it comes to temples and public baths and 
buildings of that kind we needn’t fear competition from any other 
city, and as for basic necessities we have all we want and more. The 
man of leisure can relax here, while the man of affairs will find all 
the bustle of Rome; and the visitor of limited means can enjoy rural 
seclusion. In fact, we’re the pleasure-resort for the whole province.’ 


‘Very true,’ I said; ‘and I don’t think I’ve ever felt freer anywhere 
than I have here. But I really dread the dark and inescapable haunts 
of the magic arts. They say that even the dead aren’t safe in their 
graves, but that their remains are gathered from tombs and funeral 
pyres, and pieces are snipped from corpses in order to destroy the 
living; and that at the very moment of the funeral preparations old 
hags of sorceresses will swoop down to snatch a body before its own 
people can bury it.’ To this another guest added: ‘Round here even 
the living aren’t spared. Somebody we know had a similar experience 
which left him mutilated and totally disfigured.’ At this the whole 
company burst into helpless laughter, and everybody’s eyes turned to 
a man sitting in the corner. He was put out by this unwelcome 
attention and muttering indignantly got up to go. ‘No, do stay for a 
bit, my dear Thelyphron,’ said Byrrhena, ‘and like the good fellow 
you are tell us your story again, so that my son Lucius here can enjoy 
your agreeable and amusing tale.’ ‘You, dear madam,’ he answered, 
‘are always kind and considerate, but some people’s rudeness is 
intolerable.’ He was evidently upset, but when Byrrhena persisted 
and pressed him, unwilling though he was, to tell his story as a 
personal favour to her, he eventually did as she asked. 


So having piled the coverlets into a heap and reclining half upright 
on one elbow, Thelyphron stretched out his right hand like a man 
making a formal speech, with the third and fourth fingers bent, the 
other two extended, and the thumb raised slightly as if in warning, 
and began. ‘I had not yet come of age when I left Miletus to see the 
Olympic games. Then I wanted to visit this part of your famous 

Page 24 

province, and so after touring all over Thessaly I came in an evil hour 
to Larissa. My money was running low, and I was looking round the 
town in search of some remedy for my poverty, when I saw in the 
public square a tall old man. He was standing on a stone and loudly 
announcing that if anybody was willing to watch a corpse, he would 
negotiate a price. “What’s this?” I asked a passer-by. “Are corpses 
here in the habit of running away?” “No, no,” he said. “A mere boy 
and a stranger like you obviously can’t be expected to realize that this 
is Thessaly you’re in, where witches regularly nibble pieces off the 
faces of the dead to get supplies for their magic art.” 


‘“But tell me, please,” I said, “about this business of watching over 
the dead.” “First of all,” he said, “you have to stay wide awake for 
the entire night; you mustn’t close your eyes for a second but must 
keep them firmly fixed on the body. You mustn’t let your attention 
wander or even steal a sidelong glance: these dreadful creatures, who 
can change themselves into anything, will take on the shape of any 
animal you like to name and creep up on you in stealth - it’s no 
trouble to them to outwit the eyes even of the Sun or Justice herself. 
They can take on the forms of birds or dogs or mice or even flies. 
Then they lull the watchers to sleep with their infernal 
enchantments. There’s no end to the tricks that these vile women 
contrive to work their wicked will. But the fee for this deadly job 
isn’t as a rule more than five or six gold pieces. Oh, I nearly forgot: if 
the body isn’t intact when it’s handed over in the morning, 
whatever’s been removed or mutilated has to be made good from the 
watcher’s own person.” 


‘Having taken this on board, I summoned up my courage and went 
up to the crier. “You can stop shouting,” I said. “Here’s a watcher all 
prepared. Name the price.” “You’ll get a thousand sesterces,” he said. 
“But look here, young fellow: this is the son of one of our chief 
citizens who’s died, and you must guard his body faithfully against 
the evil Harpies.” “Nonsense,” I said, “don’t give me that rubbish. 
You see before you a man of iron, who never sleeps, sharper-eyed 
than Lynceus or Argus, eyes all over him.” I had hardly finished 
speaking when he took me straight off. The house to which he 
brought me had its front door closed, and he ushered me in through a 
small back door, then into a shuttered room where he showed me in 
the gloom a weeping woman in deep mourning. Standing by her, 
“Here’s a man,” he said, “who has engaged himself to guard your 
husband and is confident he can do the job.” She parted the hair that 

Page 25 

hung down in front to reveal a face that was beautiful even in grief. 
Looking at me, she said: “Please, I beg you, do your duty with all 
possible alertness.” “You need not worry,” I said, “just so long as the 
fee is satisfactory.” 


‘Agreement reached, she rose and took me into another room. There 
was the body draped in snow-white linen, and when seven witnesses 
had been brought in she uncovered it herself. After weeping over it 
for some time she invoked the good faith of those present and 
proceeded to call off meticulously every feature of the body while 
one of the witnesses carefully wrote down a formal inventory. “Here 
you are,” she said. “Nose all there, eyes intact, ears entire, lips 
undamaged, chin in good shape. I ask you, fellow citizens, to note and 
attest this.” The tablets with the list were then sealed and she made 
to leave the room. But I said: “Please, madam, will you give orders 
for me to be supplied with everything I’ll need?” “What might that 
be?” she asked. “A large lamp,” I said, “and enough oil to last until 
dawn, and warm water with flagons of wine and a cup, and a plate of 
left-overs from dinner.” She shook her head. “You talk like a fool,” 
she said, “asking for suppers and left-overs in a house of mourning 
where there hasn’t even been a fire lit for days and days. Do you 
think you’re here to enjoy yourself? You would do better to 
remember where you are and look sad and tearful.” With these words 
she turned to a maid. “Myrrhine,” she said, “make haste and get a 
lamp and some oil, and then lock up the room and leave him to his 


‘Left alone with the corpse for company I rubbed my eyes to arm 
them for their watch, and began to sing to encourage myself. Dusk 
came, and darkness fell, and time wore on until it was the dead of 
night. My fear was at its height when there suddenly glided in a 
weasel which stood in front of me and fixed me with a piercing stare. 
I was alarmed at seeing this tiny animal so bold. “Get out,” I shouted, 
“you filthy beast, get back to your rat friends before I give you 
something to remember me by. Will you get out?” It turned and left 
the room, at which moment I was abruptly plunged into a bottomless 
abyss of sleep; the god of prophecy himself couldn’t have told which 
of the two of us lying there was deader, so lifeless was I. Indeed I 
needed somebody to mount guard over me, since I might just as well 
have been elsewhere. 


Page 26 

‘The crowing of the crested company was singing truce to darkness 
when I at last woke up. With my heart in my mouth I rushed over to 
the body with the lamp, uncovered its face and checked off all the 
features: they were all there. Now the poor weeping widow, in great 
anxiety, came bursting in with yesterday’s witnesses and fell on the 
body, covering it with kisses. Then after examining every detail by 
the light of the lamp she turned and called her steward 
Philodespotus. Having ordered him to pay over the fee immediately 
to their trusty watchman, which was done then and there, she added: 
“We are most grateful to you, young man; and what’s more, for this 
faithful service we shall from now on count you as a particular 
friend.” Delighted at this unexpected windfall and spellbound by the 
shining gold, which I was now jingling in my hand, “Madam,” I said, 
“count me rather as one of your servants, and whenever you need my 
services, don’t hesitate to command me.” The words were scarcely 
out of my mouth when the whole household, cursing the evil omen, 
fell on me with every weapon they could lay their hands on. One 
punched me on the jaw, another thumped me across the shoulders, 
and a third jabbed me viciously in the ribs; they kicked me, they 
pulled out my hair, they tore my clothes. So, bloodied and ripped 
apart like another Pentheus or Orpheus, I was thrown out of the 


‘While I was getting my breath back in the street outside, I belatedly 
realized how thoughtless and ill-omened my words had been, and 
admitted to myself that I had got off more lightly than I deserved. At 
this point I saw that the final lamentations and last goodbyes had 
been uttered, and the corpse had now left the house. As was 
traditional for a member of an aristocratic family, it was being given 
a public funeral. The procession was passing through the city square 
when there appeared an old man in black, weeping and tearing his 
handsome white hair. Seizing the bier with both hands he cried 
loudly, his voice choked by sobs: “Citizens! I charge you, as you are 
true men and loyal subjects, to avenge a murdered fellow citizen and 
punish this wicked woman as she deserves for her horrible crime. 
She, and no one else, to please her lover and get her hands on the 
estate, has poisoned this unfortunate young man, my sister’s son.” 
These tearful complaints the old man loudly directed now to this 
individual and now to that. The crowd began to turn ugly, the 
probability of the thing leading them to believe his accusation. They 
called for fire, and started picking up stones and egging on the street- 
urchins to kill her. She burst into tears (which were obviously 
rehearsed), and by all that she held sacred called on the gods to 

Page 27 

witness that she denied this awful crime. 


‘Then the old man said: “Suppose we leave the proof of the truth to 
divine Providence. We have here in Zatchlas of Egypt a prophet of 
the first rank. He has already agreed with me a large fee to bring back 
the soul of the deceased from the Underworld for a short while and 
restore his body to life.” So saying he led forward a young man 
dressed in a linen tunic and palm-leaf sandals with his head shaved 
bare. Repeatedly he kissed the man’s hands and touched his knees in 
supplication. “Have pity, O Priest,” he said, “have pity by the stars 
of heaven, by the infernal powers, by the natural elements, by the 
silences of night and the sanctuaries of Coptos, and by the risings of 
Nile and the secrets of Memphis and the sistrums of Pharos. Grant 
him a brief enjoyment of the sun and let a little light into those eyes 
which are closed for ever. We do not seek to resist Fate or to deny 
Earth what is rightfully hers; we beg only for a short spell of life so 
that we may find consolation in vengeance.” The prophet, 
propitiated, laid some sort of herb on the corpse’s mouth and 
another on his breast. Then turning eastwards he silently invoked the 
majesty of the rising sun, arousing among the witnesses of this 
impressive performance excited expectations of a great miracle. 


‘I joined the crowd, and taking up a position on a tall stone just 29 
behind the bier I watched the whole scene curiously. The corpse’s 
chest began to fill, its pulse to beat, its breath to come; it sat up and 
the young man spoke. “Why, why,” he said, “have you called me 
back for these few moments to life and its obligations, when I have 
already drunk the water of Lethe and embarked on the marshes of the 
Styx? Leave me, I beg you, leave me to my rest.” To these words of 
the corpse the prophet returned a sharp answer: “Come now, tell the 
people everything and clear up the mystery of your death. Don’t you 
know that my incantations can call up Furies and that your weary 
body can still be tortured?” The man on the bier answered and with a 
deep groan addressed the people: “I died by the wicked arts of my 
new wife; doomed to drink her poisoned cup I surrendered my 
marriage bed to an adulterer before it had grown cold.” At this the 
exemplary widow put on a bold front and began to bandy words with 
her husband in a blasphemous attempt to rebut his accusations. The 
people were swayed this way and that, some calling for this 
abominable woman to be buried alive along with her husband’s body, 
others holding that the corpse was lying and should not be believed. 

Page 28 


‘However, the young man’s next words put an end to their doubts. 
With another deep groan he said: “I will give you the clearest proof 
that I speak nothing but the truth, and I will tell you something that 
nobody else could know or predict.” Then he pointed at me. “There 
is the man,” he said, “who guarded my body. He performed his 
duties with the utmost alertness, so that the hags who were waiting 
to plunder my corpse, though they changed themselves into all sorts 
of shapes to achieve their purpose, failed to outwit his vigilance. At 
last they wrapped a cloud of sleep round him, and while he was 
buried in deep oblivion they kept calling me by name, until my 
numbed limbs and chilled body made reluctant efforts to obey their 
magic summons. But at this point he heard his own name, which is 
the same as mine, and being in fact alive, though sleeping like the 
dead, got up without knowing what he was doing and like a lifeless 
ghost walked mechanically over to the door. Though it had been 
carefully bolted, there was a hole in it, and through that they cut off 
first his nose and then his ears; so he suffered the mutilation that was 
meant for me. Then, so as not to give the game away, they made 
shapes of his missing ears and nose in wax and fitted them exactly in 
place. And there he stands, poor devil, paid not for his work but for 
his disfigurement.” Horrified at what I had heard, I started to feel my 
face. I took hold of my nose, and it came off; I tried my ears, and so 
did they. Everybody was pointing at me, turning round to look at me, 
and there was a roar of laughter. Bathed in a cold sweat I slunk away 
through the crowd, and since then I’ve not been able to face returning 
home to be mocked, looking like this. So I’ve grown my hair long to 
hide my missing ears, and my shameful nose I keep decently covered 
with this linen pad.’ 


Directly Thelyphron had finished his story the guests again broke 
into drunken guffaws. While they were calling for the traditional 
toast to the god of Laughter, Byrrhena turned to me. ‘Tomorrow,’ she 
said, ‘we have a festival which is as old as the city and unique to us, 
when we propitiate the god of Laughter with happy and joyful ritual. 
That you’re here will make it even more agreeable. It would be nice if 
you could provide some witty diversion in honour of the god that 
would enhance our celebration of his great power.’ ‘Right,’ I said, ‘I’ll 
do as you ask. I’d love to devise some suitably lavish adornment for 
this great god.’ Then, reminded by my servant that night was coming 
on, and having by now had more than enough to drink, I got up and 
with a brief good-night to Byrrhena began to make my way 

Page 29 

unsteadily home. 

But no sooner were we in the street than the torch on which we 
were relying was blown out by a gust of wind, leaving us hardly able 
to see our way in the sudden darkness and stubbing out toes on the 
stones in our fatigue as we continued on our homeward course, 
holding on to each other as we went. We were nearly there when 
suddenly there appeared three strapping fellows who hurled 
themselves violently at our front door. Our arrival, so far from 
deterring them, made them redouble their attacks in competition 
with each other. Both of us, I in particular, naturally took it that they 
were robbers of the most savage description, and I at once drew from 
under my cloak the sword I had brought with me for just such an 
emergency. Without wasting time I charged into the thick of them, 
and taking on each in turn as he confronted me I buried it in him to 
the hilt, until at length, riddled with many gaping wounds, they 
expired at my feet. When the battle was over, Photis, who had been 
woken up by the noise, opened the door, and panting and sweating I 
dragged myself into the house, where, as exhausted as if I had 
slaughtered Geryon himself rather than three robbers, I fell into bed 
and passed out. 

Page 30 


Tried for murder - all a joke which he does not 
appreciate - Photis explains - watches Pamphile 
change herself into an owl and tries to follow suit - 
is turned into an ass instead - inhospitable reception 
in the stable - frustrated in attempt to break the spell 
- carried off by robbers 

1 Rosy-fingered Dawn was just launching her crimson-caparisoned 
team heavenwards when I started up from my peaceful sleep to find 
that night had given place to day. My mind was in turmoil as I 
recollected my exploits of the night before. Squatting on the bed with 
my feet drawn up and my hands clasped on my knees I dissolved into 
a flood of tears. I imagined the square, the court, the verdict, the 
executioner. ‘Where shall I find a jury mild and lenient enough to 
acquit me, covered in gore from a triple murder and stained with the 
blood of all these citizens? So this was the triumphant journey so 
confidently predicted by Diophanes the Chaldean!’ 


I was going over these thoughts again and again and bewailing my 
wretched luck, when there was a banging on the front door and much 
shouting outside. Immediately it was opened, and in they rushed, 
filling the whole house with magistrates and their attendants and a 
motley crowd of other people. At an order from the magistrates two 
of their attendants immediately arrested me - naturally I didn’t resist 
- and began to take me off. We were hardly outside the door when 
the whole town turned out to follow us in a dense throng. I was 
trudging along despondently with my head bowed downwards to the 
ground - to hell, rather - but what I saw out of the corner of my eye 
totally astonished me. In all that huge crowd of people that surged 
around me there was nobody who wasn’t in fits of laughter. At 
length, when we had passed through every street and I had been led 
in procession round every corner of the city, like one of those victims 
that are paraded from place to place before being sacrificed to expiate 
some threatening portent, we came to the square, and I found myself 
at the bar of the court. The magistrates had taken their places up on 
the bench, and the clerk of the court was proclaiming silence, when 
suddenly there was a general demand for this important trial to be 
adjourned to the theatre - everybody shouting that this huge mob 
was dangerous and that people would be crushed in it. At once the 
whole lot of them rushed off and in no time at all had completely 
filled the auditorium. People were packed into the passageways like 

Page 31 

sardines and were all over the roof; some were clinging to columns or 
hanging on to statues; some could be half glimpsed peering through 
windows or the coffering of the ceiling. Nobody was paying the 
slightest attention to his safety; everybody was madly eager to see. 
The officers of the court led me like some sort of sacrificial victim 
out across the stage and placed me in the middle of the orchestra. 

Now once more the stentorian voice of the clerk was heard calling 
on the prosecutor. An elderly man came forward; but first, to time 
his speech, a jar was filled with water; this had holes like a filter, 
through which the water ran off drop by drop. He then addressed the 
people: ‘Worshipful citizens, this is a very important case. It 
concerns the peace of our whole community and will constitute a 
weighty precedent. It is therefore the solemn duty of each and every 
one of you to see to it, for the honour of the city, that this wicked 
killer does not escape punishment for the butchery, the series of 
bloody murders, that he has committed. I would not have you think 
that I am actuated by private hostility or personal anger. I am the 
commander of the night watch, and to this day I believe no one has 
been able to find fault with my alertness and attention to duty. Let me 
then put you in possession of the facts and tell you exactly what 
happened last night. It was past midnight, and I was making my 
rounds from house to house in the city, paying careful attention to 
every detail, when I saw this bloodthirsty young fellow with drawn 
sword, dealing death and destruction all around him. Already three - 
yes, three - victims of his savagery were breathing their last, 
weltering in gore, at his feet. Overcome, as well he might be, by the 
guilt of his terrible crime, he at once took to his heels and under the 
cover of darkness slipped into a house where he hid for the rest of 
the night. But in the morning, thanks be to divine Providence, which 
never suffers the wrongdoer to escape justice, before he could evade 
me by some secret byway I cornered him and have had him brought 
before this august and solemn tribunal. He stands before you, a 
criminal polluted by repeated murders, caught red-handed, a 
foreigner. Be firm therefore and condemn this interloper for a crime 
which even if committed by a fellow citizen you would punish with 

With these words my stern accuser ended his brutal indictment. 
The clerk then told me, if I had anything to say in reply, to begin. At 
first I could only weep, not so much because of the prosecutor’s 
harshness as because of the reproaches of my own conscience. At 

Page 32 

last, however, some heaven-sent impulse emboldened me to answer: 
‘I am only too well aware how difficult it is, when the bodies of three 
citizens are lying there for all to see, for a man accused of their 
murder, even though he tells the truth and freely admits that he did 
it, to persuade this great assembly of his innocence. But if in your 
kindness you will grant me a short hearing, I shall have no trouble in 
proving that it is not my fault that I stand here in peril of my life, but 
that it is because of the unforeseen consequences of an outburst of 
justifiable indignation that I am subjected to this false and odious 

‘I was coming back rather late from dinner, a little drunk, I admit - 
that charge I will not deny - when at the front door of my lodging - I 
am stopping with your fellow citizen, the worthy Milo - I saw a 
number of ferocious brigands trying to effect an entry. They were 
competing with each other to force the front door by tearing it off its 
hinges, and as they wrenched violently at the bolts, which were 
firmly shot, they were already debating among themselves how to 
dispose of the occupants. One of them, the largest and the most 
violent, was encouraging the others thus: “Come on, lads, to the 
attack while they’re asleep, with manly courage and lively force. 
Banish all hesitation, all cowardice from your hearts; let slaughter 
with drawn sword stalk the house. If anybody’s asleep, cut his throat 
where he lies; if he tries to resist, strike to kill. We’ll escape alive 
only if nobody escapes us.” I admit, gentlemen, that, thinking to do 
my duty as a good citizen and being in great apprehension for my 
hosts and myself, armed with the sword that I had with me for just 
such an emergency, I set about routing these desperate villains and 
putting them to flight. But, savages and brutes that they were, 
though they saw me sword in hand, so far from making off they 
boldly stood their ground. 

‘The battle-lines were drawn up. First their commander and 
standard-bearer charged me with all his strength, and grabbing me by 
the hair with both hands and bending me backwards was going to 
brain me with a stone; but while he was shouting for somebody to 
give him one, I ran him through with certain aim and left him for 
dead. Then the second, who was clinging to my legs like a limpet, I 
accounted for by a nicely judged thrust between the shoulders; and 
the third, as he ran headlong at me, I transfixed through the chest. So 
as defender of the peace and protector of my host’s house and of the 
common safety I thought that, so far from being punished, I would 

Page 33 

be publicly commended. For I have never before had even the most 
trivial brush with the law; I have always been highly respected in my 
own city and reckoned an unblemished character the greatest of all 
blessings. I am at a loss to understand why I am now arraigned like 
this as a criminal for the just vengeance which I was impelled to take 
on these abandoned ruffians. Can anybody show that they were 
personal enemies of mine, or indeed that I had ever set eyes on them 
before? Or if greed for gain might plausibly have induced me to 
commit so heinous a crime, where are the profits from it? Produce 
them - if you can.’ 

I ended my plea by again bursting into tears and stretching my 
hands out in supplication, invoking the people’s pity and everything 
they held most dear, imploring now this group, now that in my 
wretchedness. Then, when I thought their sympathies had been 
aroused and their pity stirred by my tears, I called the eyes of the Sun 
and of Justice to witness, and was just committing myself and my 
fate to divine Providence, when I happened to look up and found that 
everybody in sight was helpless with laughter, and that my excellent 
host and second father Milo was absolutely doubled up. Seeing this I 
said to myself: ‘So much for good faith! So much for conscience! 
Here am I, having killed to save my host and on trial for my life; and 
he, so far from taking my part and comforting me, actually mocks me 
in my extremity.’ 

At this point a woman ran out from the audience. Weeping, clad in 
black, she was carrying a small child in her arms; and she was 
followed by an old woman swathed in dirty rags and like her in tears. 
Both were waving olive branches. They embraced the bier where the 
bodies of the dead men lay covered and set up a howl of mourning 
and lamentation. ‘As you are creatures of compassion,’ they cried, ‘as 
you are fellow human beings, pity these young men so shamefully 
done to death, and grant us, widowed and bereaved, the consolation 
of vengeance. Whatever you do, assist this unfortunate child, left an 
orphan on life’s threshold, and atone for this affront to your laws and 
public order with this brigand’s life.’ 

There then arose the senior magistrate and addressed the people 
thus: ‘The crime itself, which must be severely punished, even the 
perpetrator cannot deny. However, one other matter still concerns us: 
to discover who else was implicated in this monstrous deed. We 
cannot be expected to believe that a single individual killed those 

Page 34 

three strong men. So the truth must be extracted from him by 
torture. The slave who was with him has made off and cannot be 
found: we have no choice but to put him to the question and force 
him to identify his accomplices, so that all fear of this dreadful gang 
can be utterly rooted out.’ 

Thereupon they began to carry in, Greek-style, fire, the wheel, 
whips of all kinds. This increased, nay doubled, my misery: I was not 
even to be allowed to die in one piece. But the old woman whose 
tears had created so much excitement now spoke up again. ‘First, 
noble citizens,’ she said, ‘before you crucify this brigand who 
murdered these unfortunate children of mine, allow the bodies of the 
slain to be revealed, so that as you contemplate their youth and 
beauty your just indignation may be further inflamed, and the 
ferocity of your revenge proportioned to the enormity of the crime.’ 
Her words were greeted with applause, and the magistrate then 
ordered me to uncover the bodies myself, as they lay on the bier, 
with my own hand. For a long time I resisted and refused to give a 
repeat performance of yesterday’s deed by this new display of it. 
However, the officers, on the orders of the magistrates, would take 
no denial; and in the end they forced my hand from where it hung 
beside me and made me stretch it out to its own ruination over the 
bodies. At last, having no choice, I gave in and reluctantly drew back 
the pall to reveal the corpses. Gods, what a sight! What a miracle! 
What a sudden alteration in my fortunes! One moment I was already 
an item of Proserpine’s property, one of the household of Orcus, the 
next the whole aspect of things was reversed and I stood dumb- 
founded. Words fail me when I try to give an adequate account of 
what I now saw before me. For those ‘bodies’ of the slaughtered men 
were three inflated wineskins gashed open in various places, and, as I 
recalled my nocturnal battle, the gashes were exactly where I had 
wounded the robbers. 


Hitherto some had been managing to hold in their laughter; now it 
broke out and took the whole crowd by storm. Some were hooting 
wildly with glee, others were clasping their stomachs in silent agony. 
All of them were in an ecstasy of joy, and kept turning to look at me 
as they made their way out of the theatre. All this time, ever since 
taking hold of the pall, I had stood like one of the statues or columns 
in the theatre as if congealed to stone. It was only when Milo came up 
to me that I returned to life; though I tried to shake him off, bursting 
into a fresh flood of tears and convulsive sobs, he gendy made me 

Page 35 

take his arm and, choosing unfrequented streets and byways, brought 
me back to his house. I was still in a state of shock, and though he 
did his best to comfort me with miscellaneous chit-chat, nothing he 
could say or do could alleviate my feeling of outrage at the indignity I 
had suffered, so deeply had it sunk into my heart. 


But now the magistrates entered in state and laid themselves out to 
appease me. ‘Master Lucius,’ they said, ‘we are well aware of both 
your rank and your ancestry. Your illustrious family is famous 
throughout Thessaly. These mortifying experiences were not 
designed as an insult. Banish this sadness from your heart and forget 
your distress of mind. This diversion, which we ceremoniously stage 
every year as a public tribute to the kindly god of Laughter, always 
relies on some fresh stroke of invention for its success. You, as both 
author and actor of his rites, will from now on wherever you go 
enjoy his favour and loving companionship; he will never let you 
suffer grief in your heart but will always make glad your countenance 
in serenity and grace. For this service the city has unanimously 
conferred on you its highest honours: it has enrolled you among its 
patrons and has voted you a statue in bronze.’ My reply was brief: ‘To 
this most illustrious of all the cities of Thessaly I return for these 
great honours appropriate thanks; but as for statues and images, 
those I ask you to reserve for my elders and betters.’ 


With these modest words and a smile which I summoned up in an 
attempt to look cheerful, I took a polite leave of the magistrates. Now 
a slave entered in a hurry. ‘A reminder from your aunt Byrrhena,’ he 
said. ‘You agreed yesterday to dine with her, and it’s almost time.’ 
Dismayed and horrified at the mere thought of her house, I 
answered: ‘Tell her that I wish I could oblige her, but I can’t break 
my word to my host. Milo has made me swear by the god who 
presides over today’s festival to dine with him tonight, and he’s with 
me now and won’t let me out of his sight. I promise her it’s only a 
postponement.’ I hadn’t finished speaking before Milo took me firmly 
by the arm and, ordering the bathing-gear to follow, led me off to the 
nearby baths. I avoided people’s eyes and shrank from the laughter of 
the passers-by - laughter for which I was responsible - and walked 
by his side doing my best to escape notice. How I bathed, how I dried 
myself, how I got home again, shame prevents me from 
remembering; all those stares and nods and pointing fingers had 
reduced me to a state of mental collapse. 

Page 36 


So, having quickly disposed of Milo’s meagre supper, I pleaded a 
severe headache brought on by continual weeping, and no difficulty 
was made about letting me go to bed. I threw myself down and was 
gloomily recalling every detail of what had happened, when at last 
Photis appeared, having seen her mistress settled for the night. This 
was a very different Photis, not smiling and saucy but with wrinkled 
forehead and a downcast expression. At last, slowly and timidly, she 
spoke: ‘It was me, I’ve got to confess it; I brought all this trouble on 
you’; and so saying she took out a strap from her dress and gave it to 
me. ‘Take it,’ she said, ‘take it, and avenge yourself on a traitress; and 
don’t stop at beating me - no punishment would be too severe. But 
please, don’t think it was my idea to devise this ordeal for you - God 
forbid that you should suffer the least anxiety because of me! If any 
misfortune threatens you, I’ll shed my life’s blood to avert it. It was 
through sheer bad luck on my part that what I was made to do for 
quite another reason resulted in your humiliation.’ 


This revived my habitual curiosity, and eager to get to the bottom 
of the matter I said: ‘As for this most wicked and audacious of straps 
which you meant me to beat you with, it will perish cut to ribbons 
at my hands before it touches your soft creamy skin. But tell me 
truthfully: what was it you did that Fortune perversely turned to my 
undoing? For I swear by your head that I love so much that nothing 
and nobody, not even yourself, will persuade me that you ever meant 
me any harm. And if no harm is intended there can be no blame, 
whatever accident or mischance may do.’ With these words I pressed 
my lips to my dear Photis’ half-closed eyes, and with thirsty kisses 
drank my fill as they melted and fluttered and brimmed over with 
yearning desire. 


This cheered her up. ‘First,’ she said, ‘let me shut the door firmly, 
for if I’m overheard indiscreetly revealing these secrets I shall be held 
guilty of a great crime.’ When she had shot the bolts and firmly 
secured the latch, she came back to me and putting both arms round 
my neck she began in a low and almost inaudible voice. ‘I’m scared,’ 
she said, ‘and frankly terrified to disclose what this house conceals 
and to lay bare my mistress’s secrets. But I know I can rely on your 
character and training: you are a man of noble birth and lofty intellect 
and have been initiated in several cults, so you well understand when 
silence is a sacred duty. Whatever secrets therefore I commit to the 

Page 37 

sanctuary of your pious heart, I beg you to enclose and guard them in 
that precinct, and repay the frankness of my story by never, never 
divulging it. In the whole world only I know these things, and it is 
only because of the love that binds me to you that I reveal them. Now 
you shall learn what this house really is, now you shall learn my 
mistress’s wonderful secret powers: through them the dead obey her, 
the stars change course, the gods do her bidding, the elements are her 
slaves. But she never resorts more eagerly to her art than when some 
handsome young man has caught her eye - something that often 
happens to her. 


‘Just now she is dying for love of a very good-looking young 
Boeotian, and she is furiously bringing all the tricks and devices of 
her art to bear on him. Only last night I heard her with my own two 
ears threatening the Sun himself with foggy gloom and everlasting 
darkness because he had been too slow in setting and giving way to 
night for her to be able to practise her enchantments. She had 
happened to catch sight of this young man yesterday at the barber’s, 
while she was on her way back from the baths, and she told me to 
glean some of his hair surreptitiously from where it had fallen on the 
floor from the scissors. I was collecting it as ordered when the barber 
caught me in the act. We are already notorious all over the city as 
witches, so he at once pounced on me, shouting and threatening: 
“You scum, will you stop stealing the young gentlemen’s hair? You 
know it’s a crime, and if you don’t lay off, I’ll have you up before the 
magistrates - I mean it.” And adding action to words, he reached 
right into my bosom to search me and angrily pulled out the hair I’d 
hidden there. This upset me terribly; knowing what my mistress is 
like and how when she hasn’t got her way in something like this 
she’s lost her temper and beaten me black and blue, I was thinking of 
running away; then I remembered you and gave that idea up. 


‘I was coming away disconsolate at having to go home empty 
handed , when I noticed a man shearing three goatskin bags. They 
were hanging up, tightly tied and inflated, and the hair was lying on 
the ground. It was fair, just like that of the young Boeotian; so I 
carried some of it off and gave it to my mistress without telling her 
where it really came from. Then, at nightfall, before you came back 
from dinner, Pamphile, who was now quite beside herself, climbed 
up to her eyrie. This is on a wooden roof at the back of the house, 
open to the winds and having views in every direction, particularly 
towards the east. This is her secret hide-out, admirably suited to her 

Page 38 

magical practices. First she set out all the usual apparatus of her 
infernal laboratory: every kind of strong-smelling drug, metal plaques 
inscribed with mysterious characters, the remains of birds of ill 
omen, and a whole array of different parts of dead and buried bodies 
- here noses and fingers, there nails from gibbets with flesh sticking 
to them, elsewhere a store of blood from men who have died a 
violent death, and skulls snatched half eaten from the jaws of 


wild beasts. Next she intoned a spell over some still quivering entrails 
and made offerings of various fluids: spring water, cow’s milk, 
mountain honey, and finally honey and wine mixed. Then she knotted 
and plaited the goat-hair together and threw it with many different 
perfumes on to the live coals to burn. Immediately, through the 
irresistible force of her magic art and the hidden power of the deities 
that she controls, the bodies whose hairs were crackling in the flame 
took on human life: they felt and heard and walked, and came here, 
drawn by the reek of their burning hair. It was they, instead of the 
young man from Boeotia, who were attacking the door in their 
eagerness to get in. And it was at that moment that you came on the 
scene drunk, and deceived by the blind darkness of night drew your 
sword and sprang to arms like another Ajax; but he only attacked and 
massacred a flock of sheep - you were much braver and slew three 
blown-up goatskins. You laid low your enemies without shedding a 
drop of blood, so I now embrace not a homicide but an utricide.’ 


This pleasantry of Photis’ made me laugh, and I took up the joke. 
‘In that case,’ I said, ‘I can count this as the first of my own heroic 
exploits, on the model of the Labours of Hercules - for laying low 
three wineskins is surely equivalent to dealing with three-bodied 
Geryon or three-headed Cerberus. But I’m happy and willing to 
forgive you for what you did and what I suffered in consequence - on 
one condition. Will you do as I earnestly ask you, and show me your 
mistress when she is actually practising her supernatural arts? I want 
to see her when she invokes the gods, particularly when she changes 
shape; for I have a passionate longing to see magic done with my own 
eyes. You yourself, I’m sure, aren’t by any means a novice or amateur 
in these matters. I know that very well; for though up to now I’ve 
always despised the idea of affairs even with women of my own 
class, you, with those sparkling eyes and cherry lips and shining hair 
and open-mouthed kisses and sweet-smelling breasts, have absolutely 
made a slave and chattel of me - and I love it. Now indeed I don’t 
miss my home or want to go back there; a night with you is worth 

Page 39 

the lot.’ 


‘I’d love to do as you ask, Lucius,’ Photis answered; ‘but she’s 
suspicious by nature and she always shuts herself up in absolute 
solitude when she performs these secret rituals. But to meet your 
wishes I’ll disregard my own safety, and I’ll be on the lookout for a 
suitable opportunity to do just what you want. But, as I said before, 
this is deadly serious, and you must be religiously discreet about it.’ 
During these whispered exchanges our desire for each other had 
inflamed our minds and bodies alike. Tearing off our clothes we 
hurled ourselves stark naked into a Bacchic frenzy of love; and when 
I was worn out, Photis, by way of encore, generously and 
unprompted, offered herself to me like a boy. Finally, when our eyes 
were drooping from lack of sleep, oblivion came upon us and held us 
fast until it was broad day. 


We had passed a few more nights of pleasure in this style, when 
Photis came to me one day in a great state of excitement to tell me 
that her mistress, having got nowhere in her love-affair by other 
means, was going that night to feather herself as a bird and fly off to 
her beloved in that shape, and to warn me to prepare myself, taking 
due precautions, to watch this great event. So shortly after nightfall, 
noiselessly and on tiptoe, she took me to the upper room and told me 
to watch through a crack in the door. This is what I saw. First 
Pamphile completely stripped herself; then she opened a chest and 
took out a number of small boxes. From one of these she removed the 
lid and scooped out some ointment, which she rubbed between her 
hands for a long time before smearing herself with it all over from 
head to foot. Then there was a long muttered address to the lamp 
during which she shook her arms with a fluttering motion. As they 
gently flapped up and down there appeared on them a soft fluff, then 
a growth of strong feathers; her nose hardened into a hooked beak, 
her feet contracted into talons - and Pamphile was an owl. Hooting 
mournfully she took off and landed once or twice to try her wings; 
then she launched herself in full flight out of the house and away 
high into the sky. 

So Pamphile used her magic arts deliberately to transform herself; 
whereas I, unenchanted, was so transfixed with amazement simply 
by this extraordinary scene that I seemed to be anything rather than 
Lucius. I was completely out of my mind, unhinged with 

Page 40 

astonishment, not knowing if I was awake or dreaming. For ages I 
kept rubbing my eyes to see if I was really awake; finally I came to 
my senses and took Photis by the hand. Putting it to my eyes, 
‘Please,’ I said, ‘while we have the opportunity, I implore you, my 
darling, by those breasts of yours, allow me to enjoy this great and 
unique proof of your love: give me a little of that ointment. Bind me 
as your slave for ever by a boon that I can never repay, and make me 
able to stand beside my Venus as a winged Cupid.’ ‘Oh, crafty!’ she 
said, ‘my lover tells me to make a rod for my own back. Even as you 
are, I’m hard put to it to keep the local wolf-pack off you; once 
you’re a bird you’ll disappear and I’ll never see you again.’ 


‘No,’ I said, ‘heaven preserve me from a crime like that. Though I 
soared aloft on eagle’s wings and roamed through the whole sky as 
Jove’s faithful messenger and proud esquire, I’d leave those exalted 
honours behind and return without fail to my little nest. I swear by 
the knot with which you have bound your hair and my heart that 
Photis is the only girl for me. And then - I’ve just thought of it - if 
I’m magicked into that kind of bird, I shall have to give all houses a 
wide berth. A fine lover for a woman to enjoy an owl would be! 
Remember that, if such night-birds do get into a house, we see 
people rush to catch them and nail them to the door to make them 
expiate by their torments the destruction which their ill-omened 
flight portends to the family. But I nearly forgot to ask: what shall I 
have to do or say to shed my wings and return to being Lucius again?’ 
‘So far as that goes, you’ve nothing to worry about,’ she said. ‘My 
mistress has shown me exactly how to restore to human shape 
anybody who is transformed in this way - not because she is 
especially fond of me, but so that when she returns home I can 
administer the antidote. But it’s a strange thing that the herbs which 
produce this great effect are so humble and ordinary: you soak a 
sprig of dill and some laurel leaves in spring-water, which you then 
bathe in and drink.’ 


She repeated this recipe several times, then very apprehensively 
she slipped into the room and took the box out of the chest. I seized 
it and kissed it, praying that it would grant me good luck on the 
wing; then I tore off my clothes, and plunging my hands into it 
scooped out a generous portion of the ointment and rubbed it all over 
myself; then I flapped my arms up and down in imitation of a bird. 
But no down or feathers appeared; instead my hair became coarse 
and shaggy, my soft skin hardened into hide, my fingers and toes lost 

Page 41 

their separate identity and coalesced into hooves, and from the end of 
my spine there protruded a long tail. My face became enormous and 
my mouth widened; my nostrils dilated and my lips hung down; and 
my ears became monstrously long and hairy. The only redeeming 
feature of this catastrophic transformation was that my natural 
endowment had grown too - but how could I embrace 


Photis like this? In this hapless state I looked myself over and saw 
that I was now no bird, but an ass; and when I wanted to complain 
about what Photis had done, I couldn’t speak or point like a human 
being. All I could do was to let my mouth hang open and my eyes fill 
with tears and look at her sideways in silent reproach. Seeing me like 
this, Photis hit herself frantically in the face, exclaiming: ‘Oh God, 
that’s torn it. I was in such a hurry and so confused that I mistook 
the box. Never mind, there’s an easy way to put things right and 
change you back. All you need to do is to eat some roses and in a 
moment the ass will vanish and you’ll be back as you were - my 
Lucius. If only I’d made us some garlands last night as usual, then you 
needn’t have had to put up with this even for as long as one night. 
But directly it’s light I’ll rush the remedy to you.’ 


And so she carried on. I meanwhile, though I was now the complete 
ass and what had been Lucius was a beast of burden, still felt and 
thought like a man. I wondered long and hard whether I ought to set 
about this vile and infamous creature with my hooves and teeth and 
batter her to death. However, I thought better of this rash plan when 
I remembered that her death would also spell the death of my 
prospects of rescue. So, lowering and shaking my head, and 
swallowing my temporary humiliation, I bowed to my harsh fate and 
took my place by the side of my own horse, who had carried me so 
well; and there in the stable I also found another ass belonging to my 
former host Milo. I imagined that if there were some sort of 
unspoken natural bond among brute beasts, that horse of mine would 
have recognized and pitied me and given me the red-carpet treatment 
as his guest. So much, however, for the gods of hospitality and good 
faith! That exemplary steed of mine and the ass immediately put 
their heads together and agreed to do for me. I suppose they were 
afraid for their own rations, for hardly had they seen me coming 
towards their manger when down went their ears and they set on me 
furiously with violent kicks, driving me away from the barley which 
only last night I had served out with my own hands to this ungrateful 
servant of mine. 

Page 42 


Finding myself received in this way I left them to it and retreated 
into a corner of the stable. While I was thinking about the behaviour 
of these colleagues of mine and rehearsing the punishment I would 
hand out to my faithless horse when the roses had come to my aid 
and I was Lucius once more, I noticed, halfway up the central pillar 
which held up the stable roof, an image of Epona sitting in a shrine - 
and it had been lovingly adorned with garlands of fresh roses! 
Perceiving my salvation, all eager and hopeful I reared up with a 
great effort as far as my front feet would reach, and stretching out my 
neck and pushing out my lips I strained every muscle to get at them. 
But luck was not on my side. My slave, who had the job of looking 
after the horse, suddenly saw what I was doing and jumped up 
indignantly. ‘How long, for God’s sake,’ he shouted, ‘are we going to 
put up with this miserable brute? First it was the other animals’ 
food, now it’s the very images of the gods that he’s after. But I’ll 
smash the sacrilegious devil, I’ll cripple him.’ He started looking 
round for a weapon and found a bundle of wood that happened to be 
lying there. Sorting out a leafy branch that was larger than all the 
others he proceeded to give me a fearful thrashing, only leaving off 
when there was a sudden uproar outside and a violent banging at the 
door; and as the whole neighbourhood echoed to a cry of ‘Thieves!’, 
he fled in terror. 


Suddenly the doors burst open and there rushed in a gang of 
robbers, filling the house and surrounding every part of it with 
cordons of armed men, while others deployed themselves to resist 
the rescuers who came running from all sides. They were equipped 
with swords and torches, which lighted up the night; steel and flame 
gleamed like the rising sun. In the middle of the house there was a 
storeroom, strongly bolted and barred and crammed with all Milo’s 
treasures. This they attacked and broke into with violent blows of 
their axes. Having made several openings they brought out all the 
contents, which they quickly tied up in bundles and shared out 
among themselves. There was more there than they could carry, but 
they were not checkmated by this superfluity of riches; they hauled 
us two asses and my horse out of the stable, loaded us to the limit 
with the heavier bundles, and drove us from the ransacked house 
with threats and blows. Leaving one of their number behind to report 
on any investigation of the crime, they beat us on over untrodden 
mountain passes at a steady trot. 


Page 43 

By this time, what with my heavy load and the steep climb up the 
mountain and the length of the journey, I was practically expiring. At 
this point, rather late in the day, I had the bright idea of invoking my 
civil rights and freeing myself from all my troubles by appealing to 
the sacred name of the Emperor. So when, it being now broad 
daylight, we were passing through a largeish town with a busy 
market and a crowd all round us, I tried to call on the august name of 
Caesar in my native Greek. I did indeed produce a clear and 
convincing ‘O’, but the name ‘Caesar’ itself I couldn’t manage. My 
discordant bray was not appreciated by the robbers, who laid into my 
wretched hide from all sides until there wasn’t enough of it left to 
make a sieve. But great Jupiter did unexpectedly save me from one 
fatal mistake. We had passed a number of farms and cottages when I 
saw a delightful garden where among other attractive plants there 
were blooming roses fresh with morning dew. Open-mouthed and 
joyful, with eager hopes of deliverance, I made up to them; but just 
as I was reaching out with slavering lips I had second and wiser 
thoughts. If the ass disappeared to reveal me as Lucius, I should 
certainly meet my death at the hands of the robbers, either on 
suspicion of being a wizard or as a possible informer if they were 
ever brought to justice. So, yielding to necessity, I turned away from 
the roses and resigning myself to my present situation I behaved as an 
ass should and munched my bit instead. 

Page 44 


The robbers' stronghold - stories of their recent 
exploits - arrival of the kidnapped girl Charite - the 
robbers' housekeeper tells her the story of Cupid and 
Psyche to comfort her - the story begun 

1 At about midday, when it was beginning to get hot under the blazing 
sun, we stopped at a village with some elderly people who were 
clearly on good terms with the bandits. Even an ass could see this 
from their instant recognition and exchange of greetings and long 
conversations, and from the fact that the robbers presented them with 
some things they took off my back, and were evidently telling them in 
a confidential whisper that they were the fruits of brigandage. Then 
they unloaded us and the other animals and turned us into a nearby 
field to graze. The prospect of sharing a meal with the other ass and 
my horse was not attractive, especially as I was still unused to dining 
off grass. However, just behind the stable I saw a kitchen-garden, and 
this, as I was now perishing with hunger, I boldly invaded. Having 
stuffed myself with vegetables, raw as they were, I invoked the whole 
company of heaven and began to prospect the surrounding area to see 
if I could find roses in bloom anywhere in the neighbouring gardens. 
There was nobody else about, so I was pretty confident that if I could 
sneak away and eat the necessary remedy while hidden in the 
undergrowth, I could quit my stooping four-footed posture and stand 
up straight again as a human being without any witnesses. 


Then while I was tossing about on this sea of thought, I saw a little 
way off a shady glen in a wood, and there, among all the different 
plants and luxuriant greenery, was the gleam of bright red roses. This 
grove I thought - for my mind was not wholly that of an ass - must 
belong to Venus and the Graces, seeing the royal splendour of that 
festive flower glowing there in its dark recesses. So, invoking the 
benign and propitious god of Success, I took off for the place with 
such a turn of speed that I felt more like a racehorse than an ass. But 
all my nimble and heroic efforts were powerless to outrun the 
perverse malignity of my Fortune. For when I got there it was not 
roses I saw, delicate and fresh, dripping with divine dew and nectar, 
sprung from happy briars with blessed thorns, nor was there a glen 
anywhere in sight, only a river-bank edged with a dense belt of trees. 
These trees have luxuriant foliage like the laurel and produce long 
cup-shaped flowers, pale red in colour; in spite of their total lack of 
smell the country people, knowing no better, call them laurel-roses. 

Page 45 

To all animals they are deadly poison. 

Finding myself trapped in this way by Fate, I madly resolved to 
renounce my hopes of salvation and take this ‘rose’-poison of my 
own free will. But while I was hesitantly moving to pluck them, a 
young man, who was presumably the gardener whose vegetables I 
had plundered, had discovered the damage and came running at me 
in a fury with a big stick. He grabbed me and showered blows on me, 
so that my life would have been in danger if I had not eventually had 
the wit to come to my own assistance. Raising my haunches I let fly 
at him again and again with my rear hooves and then made my 
getaway, leaving him lying badly battered on the adjoining slope. But 
now there appeared over the hilltop a woman, evidently his wife; 
seeing him stretched out there half dead she rushed down to him 
wailing and weeping. Her pitiful outcry was likely to be my undoing 
then and there, for all the villagers, alarmed by her cries, whistled up 
their dogs and sicked them on from every quarter to tear me apart in 
their rage. At that moment I was sure I faced death, seeing this pack 
of huge hounds, capable of taking on bears or lions, bearing furiously 
down on me. Faced with this situation I gave up my plan of escape 
and galloped back to our stable. However, the villagers, having with 
some difficulty restrained their dogs, seized me and tied me to a ring 
with a stout rope; and would undoubtedly have finished me off with 
the beating which they proceeded to inflict, had not my belly, stuffed 
as it was with raw vegetables and so in a highly liquid state, 
contracted under the pain of the blows and shot out a jet of dung at 
them. Showered with this noisome fluid and repelled by the stench, 
my tormentors were driven off, leaving me and my battered behind to 

Soon after this, as evening came on, the robbers led us out of the 
stable and loaded us, me especially, more heavily than ever. We were 
well into the next stage of our journey when I came to a decision. I 
was exhausted with marching, sinking under the weight of my load, 
worn out by beating, and my sore hooves were making me limp and 
stumble. We had arrived at a little gently gliding river, and I thought 
this offered me the opportunity I needed: I would deliberately let my 
legs go and collapse, resolutely determined not to get up and go on 
however hard they beat me, prepared indeed to die under their blows 
or even their sword-thrusts. I reckoned that in my weak and 
enfeebled state I was entitled to a discharge on medical grounds; 
surely the robbers would not want to hang around, but would be so 

Page 46 

eager to press on with their escape that they would divide my load 
between the other animals and then, as a more severe punishment 
than any they could devise, leave me a prey to the wolves and 

This admirable plan, however, was thwarted by a piece of shocking 
bad luck. The other ass, as if guessing and anticipating my design, 
suddenly feigned exhaustion, and collapsing under his load lay as if 
dead. Though they beat and goaded him and tried every way of 
getting him back on his feet, hauling him by the tail or the ears or 
the legs, he made no attempt to rise. At last, becoming weary of such 
a hopeless business, they put their heads together and decided not to 
delay their escape by dancing attendance any longer on an ass that 
was as good as dead or petrified. Dividing his load between me and 
the horse they drew their swords and cut all his hamstrings, then 
hauled him a little way off the road and threw him still breathing off 
the edge of the cliff into the valley below. With the fate of my 
unfortunate comrade before my eyes I then and there decided to 
abandon all tricks and deceits and to present myself to my masters in 
the role of a model ass. For I had overheard them telling each other 
that our next stopping-place was not far off and that this would bring 
our journey to a peaceful end, since it was their permanent 
headquarters. So, having climbed a gentle slope, we arrived at our 
destination, where our loads were taken off and stowed inside, and 
free at last from my burden I tried to shake off my weariness with a 
roll in the dust in lieu of a bath. 

The subject and the occasion itself demand that I here set out a 
description of the locality and the cave that was the robbers’ abode. 
This will be an opportunity to put my literary talent to the proof, and 
also to enable you to judge accurately whether my mind and 
perceptions were those of an ass. There stood a mountain, wild and 
rugged, covered with dense woods and towering to a peak. Its steep 
sides, encircled by sharp and inaccessible crags, were traversed by 
deep ravines, full of gullies and choked with thorny vegetation; facing 
as they did every way they provided a natural defence. From the 
summit there gushed out an abundant spring which flowed down the 
slope in a cascade of silvery ripples; then, spreading out into many 
different branches, it filled the ravines with standing pools, so 
enclosing the whole area with a sort of landlocked sea or slow- 
moving river. Above the cave, on the lower slopes of the mountain, 
arose a high tower. By way of a wall, a stout palisade of closely 

Page 47 

woven hurdles, such as are used for sheep-pens, ran all round it, 
leaving a narrow entrance in front. A real bandits’ reception-room it 
was, believe you me. There was nothing else there but a small hut 
roughly thatched with reed where, as I later discovered, a sentry- 
group of robbers chosen by lot mounted guard each night. 

One by one the robbers doubled themselves up and crept into the 
cave, leaving us securely tied up just outside the entrance. An old 
woman, bent with age, who seemed to be in sole charge of the 
welfare and comfort of all these young men, now appeared, and was 
instantly the target of violent abuse. ‘All right,’ they shouted, ‘you 
undertaker’s leavings, you disgrace to the human race, you reject of 
hell, are you going to sit there twiddling your thumbs and amusing 
yourself? What about some late-night refreshment to put heart into 
us after all our toils and dangers? All you ever do night and day is 
pour down neat wine without stopping for breath into that insatiable 
belly of yours.’ Shaking with fear the old woman answered in a 
piping voice: ‘But, gentlemen, my most valiant and faithful 
protectors, look what I’ve got waiting for you. There’s quantities of 
savoury stew, done to a turn, all the bread you can eat, and lashings 
of wine poured out into the cups, which I’ve polished up specially; 
and the hot water’s all ready as usual for a bath the moment you 
want it.’ 

She had hardly finished speaking before they all stripped off and 
stood naked; after reviving themselves in the warmth of a blazing 
fire, they washed thoroughly in the hot water and rubbed themselves 
down with oil. Then they took their places at a dinner-table heaped 

high with good things. They had scarcely done so when there arrived 
a much larger group of men, also robbers as anybody could see, since 
like the others they carried in a mass of booty - gold and silver coin 
and plate, and gold-embroidered silks. After likewise bathing and 
refreshing themselves, they joined their comrades at table, and some, 
chosen by lot, served the meal. As they ate and drank, it was every 
man for himself: they put away meat in mounds, bread in heaps, and 
wine non-stop by the gallon. Shouts and jests, talking and singing, 
abuse and badinage, were the order of the day - it was the Lapiths 
and Centaurs all over again. 

In the middle of all this, one of them, the burliest of the lot, began 
to orate. ‘Here’s to us!’ he proclaimed. ‘We gallantly stormed the 
house of Milo of Hypata, we’ve a heap of booty won by our courage, 

Page 4 8 

and on top of that we’ve got back to base without losing a man - and, 
if it comes to that, with eight more feet on the strength. As for the 
rest of you, the Boeotian towns contingent, you’ve come back with 
heavy casualties and without your brave leader Lamachus, though I’d 
rate his life as more valuable than this stuff you’ve brought. What 
did for him, however it happened, was that he was too brave for his 
own good. But he was a hero, who will be held in remembrance and 
honour along with the great kings and generals of legend; whereas 
you, model brigands that you are, just go sneaking furtively round 
bath-houses and old women’s hovels, ignominiously filching bits of 
rubbish for your flea-market.’ 

The challenge was immediately taken up by one of the second 
group. ‘You know perfectly well,’ he answered, ‘that large houses are 
much easier targets. That’s because, even though there are servants 
all over a large house, every one is more concerned to look after 
himself than to safeguard his master’s possessions. Simple people 
who live on their own, if they have any property, large or small, keep 
it dark, hide it away, and guard it fiercely, defending it with their 
lives. What happened to us will bear out what I’m saying. Directly 
we arrived at seven-gated Thebes we carried out the first step of our 
professional drill, a careful reconnaissance of the wealth of the locals. 
We found out that there was an enormously rich banker called 
Chryseros who took great pains to conceal his opulence for fear of 
being landed with the expense of public office. He lived on his own 
in seclusion, making do with a small but well-secured little house, 
sleeping in dirt and rags on bags of gold. So we decided to attack him 
first, scouting the idea of serious resistance from a lone individual 
and expecting to carry off all his wealth without exerting ourselves. 


‘That very night, as soon as it was dark, we mustered in front of the 
house. We decided not to try to slip the bolts or force the door, let 
alone break it down, since the noise might rouse the neighbourhood, 
when we should be done for. Then it was that our noble leader 
Lamachus, confident in his tried and tested courage, stealthily 
inserted his hand into the keyhole, intending to wrench the bar loose 
by force. But meanwhile, if you please, that blot on the human race 
Chryseros had been awake and taking it all in, and now, slowly 
creeping up with noiseless footsteps in total silence, he suddenly 
with one mighty blow fastened our leader’s hand to the panel of the 
door by a huge nail. Then, leaving him there fatally crucified, he 
climbed to the roof of his hovel and shouted at the top of his voice to 

Page 49 

summon the neighbours; calling each one by name he gave out that 
his house had suddenly caught fire, reminding them that this 
involved the safety of them all. So everybody, frightened by the 
danger next door, came running in alarm to help. 


‘Now we found ourselves faced with two equally painful 
alternatives, to let ourselves be captured or to desert our comrade. On 
the spur of the moment we hit on a drastic solution: with one 
carefully directed blow we cut our leader’s arm right off at the elbow 
joint, and leaving the rest of it there we tied up the wound with a 
thick bandage so that there should be no trail of blood to show which 
way we went, and hurriedly made off with what remained of 
Lamachus. We desperately wanted to do our duty by him, but we 
were hurried into headlong flight by the menacing roar of the crowd 
and fear of the danger that threatened us, while he could neither keep 
up with us nor be safely left behind. That hero, lofty of soul and pre- 
eminent in courage, repeatedly begged and prayed and tearfully 
adjured us, by the right hand of Mars, by our oath of loyalty, to save 
a faithful comrade from both torture and capture. How could a brave 
brigand outlive the loss of his hand, which was his only means of 
plunder and murder? He would count himself supremely lucky to die 
willingly by a comrade’s hand. But when nothing he could say would 
induce any of us to commit this self-elected parricide, he drew his 
sword with his other hand, kissed it lingeringly, and with a mighty 
thrust drove it straight into his heart. Then we, having paid tribute 
to our great-hearted leader’s valour, wrapped what remained of him 
carefully in a linen sheet and entrusted it to the sea to hide. And so 
now our Lamachus is at rest with a whole element as his tomb. 


‘He then ended his life in a manner worthy of his manly virtues. 
Alcimus, however, could not persuade cruel Fortune to favour his 
cunning enterprise. He had broken into an old woman’s hovel while 
she was asleep and gone upstairs into her bedroom; but instead of 
disposing of her then and there by throttling her as he should have 
done, he chose to throw out her things item by item through the 
window, which was a largeish one, for us to carry off - at least that 
was the idea. Having done a thorough job of heaving everything else 
out, he decided even to include the bed where the old girl was lying 
asleep. So he tipped her out of it and pulled off the bedclothes, 
which he was just going to send down after the rest, when the old 
bitch fell at his feet and pleaded with him: “Look, my son, why are 
you making a present of a poor old woman’s miserable ragged bits 

Page 50 

and pieces to my rich neighbours? It’s their house that this window 
overlooks.” Hearing this, Alcimus was taken in by her cunning ruse 
and believed every word she said. Of course he was alarmed by the 
thought that not only what he had already thrown out but also what 
he had been going to throw out before he realized his mistake might 
be finding its way, not to his comrades, but into somebody else’s 
house. So he craned out of the window to have a good look round, 
particularly to try to assess the wealth of this next-door house that 
the old woman talked of. This was an enterprising but imprudent 
move; while he was in this precarious position, with no eyes for 
anything but what he was looking at, the evil old hag gave him a 
sudden and unexpected push; feeble as it was, it was enough to send 
him hurtling down head first. This was from a considerable height, 
and also he fell on a large stone which lay underneath. His rib-cage 
was shattered and split open, and he vomited up torrents of blood 
from deep inside him; he did not suffer long, but died after telling us 
what had happened. We buried him as we had Lamachus, a worthy 
attendant on his leader. 


‘Discouraged by this double bereavement we now abandoned our 
Theban campaign and went on up to Plataea, the nearest town. There 
we found everybody talking about someone called Demochares and 
the gladiatorial show he was going to put on. He was a man of noble 
birth, enormously rich and correspondingly generous, who was in 
the habit of providing popular entertainments of a splendour that 
matched his fortune. It would take more wit and eloquence than I am 
master of to do justice to each and every aspect of all his various 
preparations. There were gladiators renowned for their fighting 
prowess, hunters of proven speed and agility, and desperate criminals 
with nothing to lose who were being fattened up to fatten the beasts 
in their turn. There was an elaborate timber structure of several 
stories like a movable house, and brighdy decorated enclosures for 
the wild-beast show. The number and variety of the animals beggared 
description, for Demochares had gone to endless trouble to import 
exotic species to serve as tombs for the condemned. On top of the 
rest of the outfit for this splendid show he had pretty well used up 
everything he possessed in procuring a large number of huge bears. 
Some of these had been caught locally, some bought for vast sums, 
and some were contributed by the competitive generosity of different 
friends; all of them he was feeding and looking after with no expense 


Page 51 

‘However, these fine and lavish preparations to entertain the public 
did not escape the baleful glance of Envy. The bears, exhausted by 
their prolonged captivity, wilting in the summer heat, and enfeebled 
by lack of exercise, were attacked by a sudden infection to which 
nearly every one of them succumbed. On pretty well every street you 
could see the stranded corpses of these beasts lying half dead. The 
common people, whose life of squalid poverty forbade them to be 
fastidious in matters of diet and who had perforce to stay their 
shrunken stomachs with whatever free food they could find, 
however repellent, naturally fell on this feast which lay there for the 
taking. Seeing this, Eubulus here and I hit on an ingenious plan. 
Choosing a particularly large specimen, we carried off one of the 
bears to our hideout as if to prepare it for eating. There we skinned it 
neatly, taking special care to preserve the claws, and leaving the 
animal’s head intact down to the neck-line; we scraped down the 
whole skin thoroughly, sprinkled it with fine ash, and laid it in the 
sun to dry. While the moisture was being drawn out of it by the 
blazing heat, we meanwhile had a fine feed on the meat and issued 
orders for the coming operation. It was decided that one of us, not 
just the strongest, but also the bravest, and who above all must be a 
volunteer, should dress in the bear’s skin, and in that guise get 
himself introduced into Demochares’ house. Then, at the right 
moment, at dead of night, it would be easy for him to open the door 
and let us in. 


‘Excited by this ingenious scheme many of our valiant brotherhood 
volunteered for the assignment. Of these Thrasyleon was chosen by 
popular acclaim to brave the dangers of this perilous stratagem; and, 
the skin being now pliant and soft to handle, he got into it with a 
cheerful expression. Then with minute stitches we sewed together 
the edges of the skin, covering over the seam, which in fact was 
scarcely noticeable, with the thick hair which surrounded it. We got 
Thrasyleon to push his head up through the top end of the animal’s 
gullet where the neck had been hollowed out, and made small holes 
near the nostrils and eyes for him to see and hear through. Then we 
took our brave comrade, now every inch a bear, to a cage which we 
had picked up cheap, and into this he immediately marched with 
strong and steadfast step. 

‘These preliminaries taken care of, we addressed ourselves to the 


rest of our masquerade. We had got hold of the name of a Thracian 

Page 52 

called Nicanor, who was an intimate friend of Demochares, and 
concocted a letter which purported to come from him, saying that he 
had dedicated the first fruits of his hunting to embellish his old 
friend’s games. Late in the evening, taking advantage of the darkness, 
we presented Demochares with the caged Thrasyleon and the 
spurious letter. Lost in admiration of the beast’s size and delighted by 
his friend’s timely generosity, he at once ordered ten gold pieces to be 
paid from his coffers to us, the bearers of these (as he thought) joyful 
tidings. People are naturally attracted by new and unexpected sights, 
so great crowds flocked to admire the beast; while Thrasyleon 
cleverly discouraged too close an inspection by frequent threatening 
charges at the bars. The whole town joined in celebrating the good 
fortune and happiness of Demochares, who after the wholesale loss of 
his animals had somehow managed with this fresh supply to outface 

‘He now ordered the bear to be transferred immediately with all due 
care to his park in the country. Here, however, I intervened. 


“This bear,” I said, “is tired out from the hot sun and the long 
journey. I would advise you, sir, not to introduce it into the company 
of a lot of other animals - who, I’m told, aren’t in very good health. 
Wouldn’t it be better to look around for some open and well- 
ventilated place in your house, if possible next to a pond, where it’s 
cool? As I’m sure you know, this type of animal always makes its 
home in woods and damp caves and by pleasant springs.” 
Demochares was alarmed by my warning, and remembering how 
many animals he had previously lost he agreed without more ado, 
and readily allowed us to choose a place for the cage. “And what’s 
more,” I said, “we are quite happy to mount guard by the cage all 
night. The bear is worn out with heat and harassment, and we’ll do a 
more careful job of feeding and watering it at the proper time and in 
the way it’s used to.” “No, thanks,” he answered, “we don’t need any 
help from you. Most of my people have had plenty of practice in 
feeding bears.” 


‘After this we took our leave. As we emerged from the city-gate we 
noticed a large tomb standing at some distance from the road in a 
retired and unfrequented spot. We found there a number of 
mouldering and half-closed coffins, the dwelling-places of men long 
turned to dust and ashes, and some of these we opened up as hiding- 
places for the booty we were expecting. In accordance with 

Page 53 

professional practice, we waited for the moon to set, the time when 
sleep, mounting its first and most vigorous offensive, attacks and 
overpowers the minds of men. Then, when the time came, our party 
armed itself and mustered outside Demochares’ front door to keep 
our appointment with plunder. Thrasyleon was equally punctual in 
picking the exact time of night for banditry. Creeping out of his cage 
he lost no time in dispatching with his sword every one of the 
attendants who were sleeping nearby. Then he dealt similarly with 
the doorkeeper, and possessing himself of the man’s key he opened 
the doors for us. In a moment we were inside and had taken complete 
possession of the house, and he was showing us the strongroom, 
where he had been quick to note a quantity of silver plate being put 
away the evening before. We at once broke it open by a concerted 
charge, and I told off the rest of the party to take as much gold or 
silver as they could carry and entrust it quickly to the incorruptible 
safekeeping of the dead, and then to come back at the double for 
another load. I meanwhile would act in the general interest by taking 
up a position near the front door and keeping a careful lookout in all 
directions while they were away - for I thought that the sight of the 
bear careering around the house would be enough to deter any of the 
household we might happen to wake up. Anybody, however strong 
and brave, encountering such a huge beast, especially at dead of 
night, would certainly take to his heels, lock the door of his room in 
a panic, and stay there. 


‘All this sound and careful planning, however, was thwarted by 111 
Success. While I was on tenterhooks waiting for my comrades to 
return, a slave, woken up I suppose by the noise - no doubt divine 
influence was at work - quietly emerged and saw the bear running 
about all over the house. Without making a sound he withdrew and 
managed to pass on what he had seen to the entire household. Within 
seconds the whole place was filled with hordes of slaves. The 
darkness vanished in a blaze of light from torches, lamps, tapers, 
candles, and everything else you can think of. Every man jack of them 
emerged with a weapon of some kind; each one equipped with a 
cudgel or a spear or even a drawn sword, they blocked off all the 
entrances. At the same time they were sicking on their hunting-dogs 
- long-eared shaggy brutes - to bring the beast down. 


As the uproar grew I began to beat a gradual retreat, but as I was 
hiding behind the door I had a fine view of the wonderful show that 
Thrasyleon was putting up against the dogs. Though he knew his last 

Page 54 

hour had come, he remained true to himself, his comrades, and the 
courage which never left him, fighting back with the jaws of 
Cerberus yawning before him. Indeed, as long as the breath was in his 
body he kept up the role for which he had volunteered: with various 
bear like postures and movements he would now retreat, now stand 
at bay, until finally he managed to get clear of the house. However, 
even in the open street he could not escape, for all the dogs from the 
neighbourhood - a large and ferocious pack - appeared in a body to 
join forces with the hunting-dogs, who had likewise followed hot on 
his heels. It was a grim and pitiful spectacle to see our friend 
Thrasyleon surrounded and beset by these packs of ravening dogs and 
torn apart by innumerable bites. 

‘Finally I couldn’t bear this painful sight any longer, and worming 
my way into the milling crowd I tried to assist my comrade discreetly 
in the only way possible by dissuading the leaders of the hunt. “This 
is an outrage!” I shouted. “This is a magnificent animal, and a 


one, that we’re destroying.” However, my artful intervention did not 
help my unfortunate friend, for there now ran out of the house a tall 
strong fellow who without a moment’s hesitation thrust a spear right 
into the bear’s vitals. Another immediately followed suit, and then 
several more mastered their fears and competed with each other to 
come to close quarters and plunge in their swords. As for Thrasyleon, 
the pride and glory of our band, his great spirit, ever worthy to be 
held in honour, was finally taken by storm, but there was no 
surrender. True to his oath he let no human cry or scream escape 
him, but horribly mauled and grievously wounded as he was he went 
on bellowing and growling like a beast, and endured his inevitable 
doom with noble fortitude. And so his life he surrendered to destiny, 
but his glory he kept for himself. However, so great was the terror 
and awe that he had inspired in the mob that it was dawn - broad 
day, indeed - before anybody dared even to touch the beast, 
motionless as it was. Finally in fear and trembling a butcher, more 
daring than the rest, slit open the beast’s belly and stripped our hero 
of his bear’s skin. Thus Thrasyleon was lost to us, but in his glory he 
will live on. The rest of us hurriedly packed up the bundles which 
the faithful dead had been guarding for us and left the territory of 
Plataea by forced marches. On our way we pondered in our minds 
this fact: it is no wonder that Good Faith is nowhere to be found in 
this life, for she has gone to live among the spirits of the dead in 
disgust at human perfidy. And so, every man worn out with our 

Page 55 

heavy loads and the rough road, and mourning the loss of three 
comrades, we have brought back the booty you see.’ 


At the end of this story they pledged the memory of their dead 
comrades in arms in neat wine drunk from gold cups; then they sang 
some hymns to Mars to propitiate him, and went to sleep for a while. 
To us the old woman doled out quantities of fresh barley without 
stint. My horse thought this generous spread, which he had all to 
himself, a real Salian banquet. As for me, I had only ever eaten barley 
finely milled and in the form of porridge, so I investigated the corner 
where the surplus bread was stored, and there I gave my jaws, which 
had become enfeebled and cobwebbed from long fasting, a good work- 
out. But then late at night the robbers woke up and took the field 
again; variously equipped, some armed with swords, some got up as 
ghosts, they marched off at a smart pace. As for me, not even the 
onset of sleep could check my steady and steadfast munching. When I 
was Lucius, I could leave the table content with one or two rolls; 
now, enslaved to my bottomless belly, I was already on my third 
basketful. I was still intent on my task when broad day found me at it. 


In the end, however, I was induced by my asinine sense of fitness to 
tear myself reluctantly away and slake my thirst at a nearby stream. 
Just then the robbers reappeared in an unusual state of excitement 
and agitation. They were carrying nothing whatever in the way of 
loot, not so much as a rag or bone; having turned out every man on 
the strength, armed to the teeth, all they had brought back was one 
young girl. You had only to look at her to see that she was of high 
birth, one of the provincial nobility, as her dress indicated - and 
extremely desirable, even to an ass like me. They brought her into the 
cave, sobbing and tearing her hair and clothes, and tried to calm her 
distress with soothing words. ‘You needn’t be alarmed,’ they told her, 
‘either about your life or your honour. It’s only the pressure of 
poverty that has driven us to this calling. Just be patient while we 
realize our profit - it won’t be very long. Your parents are 
enormously rich, and however miserly they may be, they’ll soon 
come up with a proper ransom for their own flesh and blood.’ 


They went on with this sort of soft soap for some time, but it did 
nothing to assuage her grief. She simply put her head between her 
hands and sobbed and sobbed. They then called the old woman in and 
told her to sit by the girl and comfort her as best she could with 

Page 56 

soothing chit-chat while they went about their usual business. But 
nothing the old woman could say would divert the girl from her 
grief: she bewailed her fate with even more piercing cries and her 
whole body shook with her sobs - I too was forced to weep in 
sympathy. ‘Haven’t I a right to be miserable?’ she cried. ‘Torn away 
from my beautiful home, my host of attendants, my dear servants, 
my honoured parents, made the booty and chattel of a calamitous 
robbery, imprisoned like a slave in this rocky dungeon, this torture- 
chamber, despoiled of all the luxuries to which I was born and bred, 
in peril of my life, among all these robbers and this horrible gang of 
cutthroats - how can I stop weeping or even go on living?’ 

She continued lamenting like this until, sick at heart, hoarse with 
crying, and completely worn out, she let her eyelids droop and 


dozed off. But her eyes had hardly closed when she suddenly started 
up from sleep like a madwoman and fell on herself even more 
violently, belabouring her breast with fierce blows and punching that 
lovely face of hers. The old woman pressed her to explain this fresh 
outbreak of grief; but all she would say, with an even deeper sigh, 
was: ‘No, no, this is the end; I’m finished now, completely done for - 
goodbye now to all hope of rescue. A noose or a sword or a clifftop, 
that’s the only way left for me.’ This irritated the old woman, and 
looking at her crossly she asked her what in God’s name she was 
crying for and why when she had just got off nicely to sleep she 
should all of a sudden start up these overdone wailings again. ‘I know 
what you’re thinking,’ she said; ‘you’re planning to do the lads out of 
the handsome profit they expect from your ransom. If you keep this 
up, I’ll see to it myself, for all your tears - and they don’t cut much 
ice with robbers - that you’re burned alive.’ 


The girl was frightened by this and kissed the old woman’s hands. 
‘Have mercy on me, mother,’ she said, ‘and of your kindness and pity 
help me a little in my desperate plight. For, full of years as you are, I 
can’t believe, when I look at your venerable white hairs, that 
compassion has altogether withered away in you. Now, listen to my 
story; it’s a real tragedy. Imagine a handsome young man, the leader 
of his age-group. The city has unanimously elected him a Son of the 
People; he’s also my cousin, just three years older than me. We were 
brought up together as children, and we grew up as inseparable 
companions in the same house, even sharing a room and a bed. We 
were pledged to each other by chaste affection on both sides, and we 

Page 57 

had for a long time been engaged to be married. Our parents had 
given their consent, he was named in the marriage-contract as my 
husband, and surrounded by a crowd of friends and relations who 
had come to honour the occasion he was sacrificing in the temples 
and shrines of the city. The whole house, a bower of laurel and ablaze 
with torchlight, was resounding to the marriage-hymn. My unhappy 
mother was embracing me and arraying me in my bridal finery, and 
with many loving kisses and many an anxious prayer was already 
looking forward to grandchildren - when at that moment there was a 
sudden invasion of armed men, a scene of savage warfare, the 
glittering menace of naked blades. They did not set themselves to kill 
or plunder, but burst straight into our room in a tighdy packed mass. 
None of our servants fought back or put up the least resistance, and 
they snatched me, half dead with pitiful fright and overcome by 
cruel terror, from my mother’s arms. And that is how my marriage, 
like those of Attis and Protesilaus, was 


broken up and brought to nothing. But now my wretchedness has 
been renewed and redoubled by a dreadful nightmare. I thought I had 
been rudely snatched from my home, my room, my bridal chamber, 
and my bed, and was lost in the wilderness calling the name of my 
unfortunate husband; and he, just as he was when torn from my 
arms, perfumed and garlanded, was following in my tracks while I 
fled from him on feet over which I had no control. As he was loudly 
lamenting the rape of his beautiful wife and calling on the people to 
help him, one of the robbers, enraged by this troublesome pursuit, 
seized a large stone from the ground and with it killed my unhappy 
young husband. It was because I was terrified by this ghastly vision 
that I woke up in a sudden panic from my ill-omened sleep.’ 

The old woman was sighing in sympathy with the girl’s tears. 
‘Cheer up, little lady,’ she answered, ‘and don’t be frightened by an 
empty dream - it doesn’t mean anything. Everybody says that 
daytime dreams are untrue; and what’s more important, night-time 
dreams generally foretell the opposite of what actually happens. So 
weeping or being beaten, or sometimes even being murdered, is a 
promise of money and profit, whereas smiling or stuffing yourself 
with sweetmeats or meeting a lover is a sign that grief or illness and 
all sorts of other misfortunes are in store. But come, now let me take 
your mind off your troubles: here’s a pretty fairytale, an old woman’s 
story’ - and with that she began 

The Story of Cupid and Psyche 

Page 58 

28 There was once a city with a king and queen who had three beautiful 
daughters. The two eldest were very fair to see, but not so beautiful 
that human praise could not do them justice. The loveliness of the 
youngest, however, was so perfect that human speech was too poor 
to describe or even praise it satisfactorily. Indeed huge numbers of 
both citizens and foreigners, drawn together in eager crowds by the 
fame of such an extraordinary sight, were struck dumb with 
admiration of her unequalled beauty; and putting right thumb and 
forefinger to their lips they would offer outright religious worship to 
her as the goddess Venus. Meanwhile the news had spread through 
the nearby cities and adjoining regions that the goddess born of the 
blue depths of the sea and fostered by its foaming waves had made 
public the grace of her godhead by mingling with mortal men; or at 
least that, from a new fertilization by drops from heaven, not sea but 
earth had grown another Venus in the flower of her virginity. 


And so this belief exceeded all bounds and gained ground day by day, 
ranging first through the neighbouring islands, then, as the report 
made its way further afield, through much of the mainland and most 
of the provinces. Now crowds of people came flocking by long 
journeys and deep-sea voyages to view this wonder of the age. No one 
visited Paphos or Cnidos or even Cythera to see the goddess herself; 
her rites were abandoned, her temples disfigured, her couches 
trampled, her worship neglected; her statues were ungarlanded, her 
altars shamefully cold and empty of offerings. It was the girl to whom 
prayers were addressed, and in human shape that the power of the 
mighty goddess was placated. When she appeared each morning it 
was the name of Venus, who was far away, that was propitiated with 
sacrifices and offerings; and as she walked the streets the people 
crowded to adore her with garlands and flowers. 

This outrageous transference of divine honours to the worship of a 
mortal girl kindled violent anger in the true Venus, and unable to 
contain her indignation, tossing her head and protesting in deep 


bitterness, she thus soliloquized: ‘So much for me, the ancient 
mother of nature, primeval origin of the elements, Venus nurturer of 
the whole world: I must go halves with a mortal girl in the honour 
due to my godhead, and my name, established in heaven, is profaned 
by earthly dirt! It seems that I am to be worshipped in common and 
that I must put up with the obscurity of being adored by deputy, 
publicly represented by a girl - a being who is doomed to die! Much 

Page 59 

good it did me that the shepherd whose impartial fairness was 
approved by great Jove preferred me for my unrivalled beauty to 
those great goddesses! But she will rue the day, whoever she is, when 
she usurped my honours. I’ll see to it that she regrets this beauty of 
hers to which she has no right.’ 

So saying, she summoned that winged son of hers, that most 
reckless of creatures, whose wicked behaviour flies in the face of 
public morals, who armed with torch and arrows roams at night 
through houses where he has no business, ruining marriages on 
every hand, committing heinous crimes with impunity, and never 
doing such a thing as a good deed. Irresponsible as he already was by 
nature, she aroused him yet more by her words; and taking him to 
the city and showing him Psyche - this was the girl’s name - she 


laid before him the whole story of this rival beauty. Groaning and 
crying out in indignation, ‘By the bonds of a mother’s love,’ she said, 
‘I implore you, by the sweet wounds of your arrows, by the honeyed 
burns made by your torch, avenge your mother - avenge her to the 
full. Punish mercilessly that arrogant beauty, and do this one thing 
willingly for me - it’s all I ask. Let this girl be seized with a burning 
passion for the lowest of mankind, some creature cursed by Fortune 
in rank, in estate, in condition, someone so degraded that in all the 
world he can find no wretchedness to equal his own.’ 

With these words, she kissed her son with long kisses, open- 
mouthed and closely pressed, and then returned to the nearest point 
of the seashore. And as she set her rosy feet on the surface of the 
moving waves, all at once the face of the deep sea became bright and 
calm. Scarcely had she formed the wish when immediately, as if she 
had previously ordered it, her marine entourage was prompt to 
appear. There came the daughters of Nereus singing in harmony, 
Portunus with his thick sea-green beard, Salacia, the folds of her robe 
heavy with fish, and little Palaemon astride his dolphin. On all sides 
squadrons of Tritons cavorted over the sea. One softly sounded his 
loud horn, a second with a silken veil kept off the heat of her enemy 
the Sun, a third held his mistress’s mirror before her face, and others 
yoked in pairs swam beneath her car. Such was the retinue that 
escorted Venus in her progress to Ocean. 


Psyche meanwhile, for all her striking beauty, had no joy of it. 
Everyone feasted their eyes on her, everyone praised her, but no one, 
king, prince, or even commoner, came as a suitor to ask her in 

Page 60 

marriage. Though all admired her divine loveliness, they did so 
merely as one admires a statue finished to perfection. Long ago her 
two elder sisters, whose unremarkable looks had enjoyed no such 
widespread fame, had been betrothed to royal suitors and achieved 
rich marriages; Psyche stayed at home an unmarried virgin mourning 
her abandoned and lonely state, sick in body and mind, hating this 
beauty of hers which had enchanted the whole world. In the end the 
unhappy girl’s father, sorrowfully suspecting that the gods were 
offended and fearing their anger, consulted the most ancient oracle of 
Apollo at Miletus, and implored the great god with prayers and 
sacrifices to grant marriage and a husband to his slighted daughter. 
But Apollo, though Greek and Ionian, in consideration for the writer 
of a Milesian tale, replied in Latin: 


On mountain peak, O King, expose the maid 
For funeral wedlock ritually arrayed. 

No human son-in-law (hope not) is thine, 

But something cruel and fierce and serpentine; 

That plagues the world as, borne aloft on wings, 
With fire and steel it persecutes all things; 

That Jove himself, he whom the gods revere, 

That Styx’s darkling stream regards with fear. 

The king had once accounted himself happy; now, on hearing the 
utterance of the sacred prophecy, he returned home reluctant and 
downcast, to explain this inauspicious reply, and what they had to 
do, to his wife. There followed several days of mourning, of weeping, 
of lamentation. Eventually the ghastly fulfilment of the terrible oracle 
was upon them. The gear for the poor girl’s funereal bridal was 
prepared; the flame of the torches died down in black smoke and ash; 
the sound of the marriage-pipe was changed to the plaintive Lydian 
mode; the joyful marriage-hymn ended in lugubrious wailings; and 
the bride wiped away her tears with her own bridal veil. The whole 
city joined in lamenting the sad plight of the afflicted family, and in 
sympathy with the general grief all public business was immediately 


However, the bidding of heaven had to be obeyed, and the 
unfortunate Psyche was required to undergo the punishment 

Page 61 

ordained for her. Accordingly, amid the utmost sorrow, the 
ceremonies of her funereal marriage were duly performed, and 
escorted by the entire populace Psyche was led forth, a living corpse, 
and in tears joined in, not her wedding procession, but her own 
funeral. While her parents, grief-stricken and stunned by this great 
calamity, hesitated to complete the dreadful deed, their daughter 
herself encouraged them: ‘Why do you torture your unhappy old age 
with prolonged weeping? Why do you weary your spirit - my spirit 
rather - with constant cries of woe? Why do you disfigure with 
useless tears the faces which I revere? Why by tearing your eyes do 
you tear mine? Why do you pull out your white hairs? Why do you 
beat your breasts, those breasts which to me are holy? These, it 
seems, are the glorious rewards for you of my incomparable beauty. 
Only now is it given to you to understand that it is wicked Envy that 
has dealt you this deadly blow. Then, when nations and peoples were 
paying us divine honours, when with one voice they were hailing me 
as a new Venus, that was when you should have grieved, when you 
should have wept, when you should have mourned me as already 
lost. Now I too understand, now I see that it is by the name of Venus 
alone that I am destroyed. Take me and leave me on the rock to 
which destiny has assigned me. I cannot wait to enter on this happy 
marriage, and to see that noble bridegroom of mine. Why should I 
postpone, why should I shirk my meeting with him who is born for 
the ruin of the whole world?’ 


After this speech the girl fell silent, and with firm step she joined 
the escorting procession. They came to the prescribed crag on the 
steep mountain, and on the topmost summit they set the girl and 
there they all abandoned her; leaving there too the wedding torches 
with which they had lighted their path, extinguished by their tears, 
with bowed heads they took their way homeward. Psyche’s unhappy 
parents, totally prostrated by this great calamity, hid themselves 
away in the darkness of their shuttered palace and abandoned 
themselves to perpetual night. Her, however, fearful and trembling 
and lamenting her fate there on the summit of the rock, the gentle 
breeze of softly breathing Zephyr, blowing the edges of her dress this 
way and that and filling its folds, imperceptibly lifted up; and 
carrying her on his tranquil breath smoothly down the slope of the 
lofty crag he gently let her sink and laid her to rest on the flowery 
turf in the bosom of the valley that lay below. 

Page 62 


The story of Cupid and Psyche continued 

1 In this soft grassy spot Psyche lay pleasantly reclining on her bed of 
dewy turf and, her great disquiet of mind soothed, fell sweetly asleep. 
Presently, refreshed by a good rest, she rose with her mind at ease. 
What she now saw was a park planted with big tall trees and a spring 
of crystal-clear water. In the very centre of the garden, by the outflow 
of the spring, a palace had been built, not by human hands but by a 
divine craftsman. Directly you entered you knew that you were 
looking at the pleasure-house of some god-so splendid and delightful 
it was. For the coffering of the ceiling was of citron-wood and ivory 
artfully carved, and the columns supporting it were of gold; all the 
walls were covered in embossed silver, with wild beasts and other 
animals confronting the visitor on entering. Truly, whoever had so 
skilfully imparted animal life to all that silver was a miracle-worker 
or a demigod or indeed a god! Furthermore, the very floors were 
divided up into different kinds of pictures in mosaic of precious 
stones: twice indeed and more than twice marvellously happy those 
who walk on gems and jewellery! As far and wide as the house 
extended, every part of it was likewise of inestimable price. All the 
walls, which were built of solid blocks of gold, shone with their own 
brilliance, so that the house furnished its own daylight, sun or no sun; 
such was the radiance of the rooms, the colonnades, the very doors. 
The rest of the furnishings matched the magnificence of the building, 
so that it would seem fair to say that great Jove had built himself a 
heavenly palace to dwell among mortals. 


Drawn on by the delights of this place, Psyche approached and, 
becoming a little bolder, crossed the threshold; then, allured by her 
joy in the beautiful spectacle, she examined all the details. On the far 
side of the palace she discovered lofty storehouses crammed with 
rich treasure; there is nothing that was not there. But in addition to 
the wonder that such wealth could exist, what was most astonishing 
was that this vast treasure of the entire world was not secured by a 
single lock, bolt, or guard. As she gazed at all this with much pleasure 
there came to her a disembodied voice: ‘Mistress, you need not be 
amazed at this great wealth. All of it is yours. Enter then your 
bedchamber, sleep off your fatigue, and go to your bath when you 
are minded. We whose voices you hear are your attendants who will 
diligently wait on you; and when you have refreshed yourself 

Page 63 


a royal banquet will not be slow to appear for you.’ Psyche 
recognized her happy estate as sent by divine Providence, and 
obeying the instructions of the bodiless voice she dispelled her 
weariness first with sleep and then with a bath. There immediately 
appeared before her a semicircular seat; seeing the table laid she 
understood that this provision was for her entertainment and gladly 
took her place. Instantly course after course of wine like nectar and of 
different kinds of food was placed before her, with no servant to be 
seen but everything wafted as it were on the wind. She could see no 
one but merely heard the words that were uttered, and her waiting 
maids were nothing but voices to her. When the rich feast was over, 
there entered an invisible singer, and another performed on a lyre, 
itself invisible. This was succeeded by singing in concert, and though 
not a soul was to be seen, there was evidently a whole choir present. 

These pleasures ended, at the prompting of dusk Psyche went to 
bed. Night was well advanced when she heard a gentle sound. Then, 
all alone as she was and fearing for her virginity, Psyche quailed and 
trembled, dreading, more than any possible harm, the unknown. Now 
there entered her unknown husband; he had mounted the bed, made 
her his wife, and departed in haste before sunrise. At once the voices 
that were in waiting in the room ministered to the new bride’s slain 
virginity. Things went on in this way for some little time; and, as is 
usually the case, the novelty of her situation became pleasurable to 
her by force of habit, while the sound of the unseen voice solaced her 

Meanwhile her parents were pining away with ceaseless grief and 
sorrow; and as the news spread her elder sisters learned the whole 
story. Immediately, sad and downcast, they left home and competed 

with each other in their haste to see and talk to their parents. That 
night her husband spoke to Psyche - for though she could not see 
him, her hands and ears told her that he was there - as follows: 
‘Sweetest Psyche, my dear wife, Fortune in yet more cruel guise 
threatens you with mortal danger: I charge you to be most earnestly 
on your guard against it. Your sisters, believing you to be dead, are 
now in their grief following you to the mountain-top and will soon be 
there. If you should hear their lamentations, do not answer or even 
look that way, or you will bring about heavy grief for me and for 
yourself sheer destruction.’ She agreed and promised to do her 

Page 64 

husband’s bidding, but as soon as he and the night had vanished 
together, the unhappy girl spent the whole day crying and mourning, 
constantly repeating that now she was utterly destroyed: locked up in 
this rich prison and deprived of intercourse or speech with human 
beings, she could not bring comfort to her sisters in their sorrow or 
even set eyes on them. Unrevived by bath or food or any other 
refreshment and weeping inconsolably she retired to rest. 

It was no more than a moment before her husband, earlier than 
usual, came to bed and found her still in tears. Taking her in his arms 
he remonstrated with her: ‘Is this what you promised, my Psyche? I 
am your husband: what am I now supposed to expect from you? 
What am I supposed to hope? All day, all night, even in your 
husband’s arms, you persist in tormenting yourself. Do then as you 
wish and obey the ruinous demands of your heart. Only be mindful 
of my stern warning when - too late - you begin to be sorry.’ Then 
with entreaties and threats of suicide she forced her husband to agree 
to her wishes: to see her sisters, to appease their grief, to talk with 
them. So he yielded to the prayers of his new bride, and moreover 
allowed her to present them with whatever she liked in the way of 
gold or jewels, again and again, however, repeating his terrifying 
warnings: she must never be induced by the evil advice of her sisters 
to discover what her husband looked like, or allow impious curiosity 
to hurl her down to destruction from the heights on which Fortune 
had placed her, and so for ever deprive her of his embraces. Psyche 
thanked her husband and, happier now in her mind, ‘Indeed,’ she 
said, ‘I will die a hundred deaths before I let myself be robbed of this 
most delightful marriage with you. For I love and adore you to 
distraction, whoever you are, as I love my own life; Cupid himself 
cannot compare with you. But this too I beg you to grant me: order 
your servant Zephyr to bring my sisters to me as he brought me here’ 
- and planting seductive kisses, uttering caressing words, and 
entwining him in her enclosing arms, she added to her endearments 
‘My darling, my husband, sweet soul of your Psyche.’ He unwillingly 
gave way under the powerful influence of her murmured words of 
love, and promised to do all she asked; and then, as dawn was now 
near, he vanished from his wife’s arms. 

The sisters inquired the way to the rock where Psyche had been left 
and hurriedly made off to it, where they started to cry their eyes out 
and beat their breasts, so that the rocky crags re-echoed their 
ceaseless wailings. They went on calling their unhappy sister by 

Page 65 

name, until the piercing noise of their shrieks carried down the 
mountainside and brought Psyche running out of the palace in 
distraction, crying; ‘Why are you killing yourselves with miserable 
lamentation for no reason? I whom you are mourning, I am here. 
Cease your sad outcry, dry now your cheeks so long wet with tears; 
for now you can embrace her for whom you were grieving.’ Then she 
summoned Zephyr and reminded him of her husband’s order. On the 
instant he obeyed her command and on his most gentle breeze at once 
brought them to her unharmed. Then they gave themselves over to 
the enjoyment of embraces and eager kisses; and coaxed by their joy 
the tears which they had restrained now broke out again. ‘But now,’ 
said Psyche, ‘enter in happiness my house and 

home and with your sister restore your tormented souls.’ With these 
words she showed them the great riches of the golden palace and let 
them listen to the retinue of slave-voices, and refreshed them 
sumptuously with a luxurious bath and the supernatural splendours 
of her table. They, having enjoyed to the full this profusion of divine 
riches, now began deep in their hearts to cherish envy. Thus one of 
them persisted with minute inquiries, asking who was the master of 
this heavenly household and who or what was Psyche’s husband. 
Psyche, however, scrupulously respected her husband’s orders and 
did not allow herself to forget them; she improvised a story that he 
was a handsome young man whose beard had only just begun to grow 
and that he spent most of his time farming or hunting in the 
mountains. Then, fearing that if the conversation went on too long 
some slip would give away her secret thoughts, she loaded them with 
gold plate and jewellery, immediately summoned Zephyr, and handed 
them over to him for their return journey. 

No sooner said than done. The worthy sisters on their return home 
were now inflamed by the poison of their growing envy, and began to 
exchange vociferous complaints. So then the first started: ‘You see 
the blindness, the cruelty and injustice of Fortune! - content, it 
would seem, that sisters of the same parents should fare so 
differently. Here are we, the elder sisters, handed over to foreign 
husbands as slaves, banished from our home, our own country, to 
live the life of exiles far from our parents, while she, the youngest, 
the offspring of a late birth from a worn-out womb, enjoys huge 
wealth and a god for husband. Why, she doesn’t even know how to 
make proper use of all these blessings. You saw, sister, all the 
priceless necklaces, the resplendent stuffs, the sparkling gems, the 

Page 66 

gold everywhere underfoot. If this husband of hers is as handsome as 
she says, she is the happiest woman alive. Perhaps, though, as he 
learns to know her and his love is strengthened, her god-husband will 
make her a goddess too. Yes, yes, that’s it: that explains her 
behaviour and her attitude. She’s already looking to heaven and 
fancying herself a goddess, this woman who has voices for slaves and 
lords it over the winds themselves. And I, God help me, am fobbed 
off with a husband older than my father, bald as a pumpkin and puny 
as a child, who keeps the whole house shut up with bolts and bars.’ 


Her sister took up the refrain: ‘And I have to put up with a husband 
bent double with rheumatism and so hardly ever able to give me 
what a woman wants. I’m always having to massage his twisted, 
stone-hard fingers, spoiling these delicate hands of mine with 
stinking compresses and filthy bandages and loathsome plasters - so 
that it’s not a dutiful wife I look like but an overworked sick-nurse. 
You must decide for yourself, sister, how patiently - or rather 
slavishly, for I shall say frankly what I think - you can bear this; as 
for me, I can no longer stand the sight of such good fortune befalling 
one so unworthy of it. Do you remember the pride, the arrogance, 
with which she treated us? How her boasting, her shameless 
showing off, revealed her puffed-up heart? With what bad grace she 
tossed us a few scraps of her vast wealth and then without more ado, 
tiring of our company, ordered us to be thrust - blown - whistled 
away? As I’m a woman, as sure as I stand here, I’ll hurl her down to 
ruin from her great riches. And if you too, as you have every right to 
do, have taken offence at her contemptuous treatment of us, let us 
put our heads together to devise strong measures. Let us not show 
these presents to our parents or to anybody else, and let us pretend 
not to know even whether she is alive or dead. It’s enough that we’ve 
seen what we wish we hadn’t, without spreading this happy news of 
her to them and to the rest of the world. You aren’t really rich if 
nobody knows that you are. She is going to find out that she has elder 
sisters, not servants. Now let us return to our husbands and go back 
to our homes - poor but decent - and then when we’ve thought 
things over seriously let us equip ourselves with an even firmer 
resolve to punish her insolence.’ 


The two evil women thought well of this wicked plan, and having 
hidden all their precious gifts, they tore their hair and clawed their 
cheeks (no more than they deserved), renewing their pretence of 
mourning. In this way they inflamed their parents’ grief all over 

Page 67 

again; and then, taking a hasty leave of them, they made off to their 
homes swollen with mad rage, to devise their wicked - their 
murderous - plot against their innocent sister. Meanwhile Psyche’s 
mysterious husband once more warned her as they talked together 
that night: ‘Don’t you see the danger that threatens you? Fortune is 
now engaging your outposts, and if you do not stand very firmly on 
your guard she will soon be grappling with you hand to hand. These 
treacherous she-wolves are doing their best to lay a horrible trap for 
you; their one aim is to persuade you to try to know my face - but if 
you do see it, as I have constantly told you, you will not see it. So 
then if those vile witches come, as I know they will, armed with 
their deadly designs, you must not even talk to them; but if because 
of your natural lack of guile and tenderness of heart you are unequal 
to that, at least you must refuse to listen to or answer any questions 
about your husband. For before long we are going to increase our 
family; your womb, until now a child’s, is carrying a child for us in 
its turn - who, if you hide our secret in silence, will 

be divine, but if you divulge it, he will be mortal.’ Hearing this, 
Psyche, blooming with happiness, clapped her hands at the consoling 
thought of a divine child, exulting in the glory of this pledge that was 
to come and rejoicing in the dignity of being called a mother. 
Anxiously she counted the growing tale of days and months as they 
passed, and as she learned to bear her unfamiliar burden she 
marvelled that from a moment’s pain there should come so fair an 
increase of her rich womb. 

But now those plagues, foulest Furies, breathing viperine poison 
and pressing on in their devilish haste, had started their voyage; and 
once more her transitory husband warned Psyche: ‘The day of 
reckoning and the last chance are here. Your own sex, your own flesh 
and blood, are the enemy, arrayed in arms against you; they have 
marched out and drawn up their line, and sounded the trumpet-call; 
with drawn sword your abominable sisters are making for your 
throat. What disasters press upon us, sweetest Psyche! Have pity on 
yourself and on us both; remember your duty and control yourself, 
save your home, your husband, and this little son of ours from the 
catastrophe that threatens us. You cannot call those wicked women 
sisters any longer; in their murderous hatred they have spurned the 
ties of blood. Do not look at them, do not listen to them, when like 
the Sirens aloft on their crag they make the rocks ring with their 
deadly voices.’ 


Page 68 

As she replied, Psyche’s voice was muffled by sobs and tears: ‘More 
than once, I know, you have put my loyalty and discretion to the 
proof, but none the less now you shall approve my strength of mind. 
Only once more order our Zephyr to do his duty, and instead of your 
own sacred face that is denied me let me at least behold my sisters. 
By those fragrant locks that hang so abundantly, by those soft smooth 
cheeks so like mine, by that breast warm with hidden heat, as I hope 
to see your face at least in this little one: be swayed by the dutiful 
prayers of an anxious suppliant, allow me to enjoy my sisters’ 
embrace, and restore and delight the soul of your devoted Psyche. As 
to your face, I ask nothing more; even the darkness of night does not 
blind me; I have you as my light.’ Enchanted by her words and her 
soft embrace, her husband dried her tears with his hair, promised to 
do as she asked, and then left at once just as day was dawning. 


The two sisters, sworn accomplices, without even visiting their 
parents, disembarked and made their way at breakneck speed straight 
to the well-known rock, where, without waiting for their conveying 
wind to appear, they launched themselves with reckless daring into 
the void. However, Zephyr, heeding though reluctantly his royal 
master’s commands, received them in the embrace of his gentle 
breeze and brought them to the ground. Without losing a second they 
immediately marched into the palace in close order, and embracing 
their victim these women who belied the name of sister, hiding their 
rich store of treachery under smiling faces, began to fawn on her: 
‘Psyche, not little Psyche any longer, so you too are a mother! Only 
fancy what a blessing for us you are carrying in your little pocket! 
Think of the joy and gladness for our whole house! Imagine what 
pleasure we shall take in raising this marvellous child! If he is, as he 
ought to be, as fair as his parents, it will be a real Cupid that will be 


With such pretended affection did they little by little make their 
way into their sister’s heart. Then and there she sat them down to 
recover from the fatigues of their journey, provided warm baths for 
their refreshment, and then at table entertained them splendidly with 
all those wonderful rich eatables and savoury delicacies of hers. She 
gave an order, and the lyre played; another, and there was pipe- 
music; another, and the choir sang. All these invisible musicians 
soothed with their sweet strains the hearts of the listeners. Not that 
the malice of the wicked sisters was softened or quieted even by the 
honeyed sweetness of the music; directing their conversation towards 

Page 69 

the trap their guile had staked out they craftily began to ask Psyche 
about her husband, his family, his class, his occupation. She, silly 
girl that she was, forgetting what she had said before, concocted a 
new story and told them that her husband was a prosperous 
merchant from the neighbouring province, a middle-aged man with a 
few white hairs here and there. However, she did not dwell on this 
for more than a moment or two, but again returned them to their 
aerial transport loaded with rich gifts. 


No sooner were they on their way back, carried aloft by Zephyr’s 
calm breath, than they began to hold forth to each other: ‘Well, sister, 
what is one to say about that silly baggage’s fantastic lies? Last time it 
was a youth with a fluffy beard, now it’s a middle-aged man with 
white hair. Who is this who in a matter of days has been suddenly 
transformed into an old man? Take it from me, sister, either the little 
bitch is telling a pack of lies or she doesn’t know what her husband 
looks like. Whichever it is, she must be relieved of those riches of 
hers without more ado. If she doesn’t know his shape, obviously it is 
a god she has married and it’s a god her pregnancy will bring us. All I 
can say is, if she’s called - God forbid - the mother of a divine child, 
I’ll hang myself and be done with it. Meanwhile then let us go back to 
our parents, and we’ll patch together the most colourable fabrication 
we can to support what we’ve agreed on.’ 


On fire with this idea they merely greeted their parents in passing; 
and having spent a disturbed and wakeful night, in the morning they 
flew to the rock. Under the protection as usual of the wind they 
swooped down in a fury, and rubbing their eyelids to bring on the 
tears they craftily accosted the girl: ‘There you sit, happy and blessed 
in your very ignorance of your misfortune and careless of your 
danger, while we can’t sleep for watching over your welfare, and are 
suffering acute torments in your distress. For we know for a fact, and 
you know we share all your troubles and misfortunes, so we cannot 
hide it from you, that it is an immense serpent, writhing its knotted 
coils, its bloody jaws dripping deadly poison, its maw gaping deep, if 
only you knew it, that sleeps with you each night. Remember now 
the Pythian oracle, which gave out that you were fated to wed a wild 
beast. Many peasants and hunters of the region and many of your 
neighbours have seen him coming back from feeding and 


bathing in the waters of the nearby river. They all say that it won’t be 

Page 70 

for long that he will go on fattening you so obligingly, but that as soon 
as the fullness of your womb brings your pregnancy to maturity and 
you are that much more rich and enjoyable a prize, he will eat you 
up. Well, there it is; it’s you who must decide whether to take the 
advice of your sisters who are worried for your life, and escape death 
by coming to live in safety with us, or be entombed in the entrails of 
a savage monster. However, if a country life and musical solitude, and 
the loathsome and dangerous intimacy of clandestine love, and the 
embraces of a venomous serpent, are what appeals to you, at all 
events your loving sisters will have done their duty.’ 

Then poor Psyche, simple and childish creature that she was, was 
seized by fear at these grim words. Beside herself, she totally forgot 
all her husband’s warnings and her own promises, and hurled herself 
headlong into an abyss of calamity. Trembling, her face bloodless and 
ghastly, she scarcely managed after several attempts to whisper 


from half-opened lips: ‘Dearest sisters, you never fail in your loving 
duty, as is right and proper, and I do not believe that those who have 
told you these things are lying. For I have never seen my husband’s 
face and I have no idea where he comes from; only at night, obeying 
his voice, do I submit to this husband of unknown condition - one 
who altogether shuns the light; and when you say that he must be 
some sort of wild beast, I can only agree with you. For he constantly 
terrifies me with warnings not to try to look at him, and threatens me 
with a fearful fate if I am curious about his appearance. So if you can 
offer some way of escape to your sister in her peril, support her now: 
for if you desert me at this point, all the benefits of your earlier 
concern will be lost.’ 

The gates were now thrown open, and these wicked women 
stormed Psyche’s defenceless heart; they ceased sapping and mining, 
drew the swords of their treachery, and attacked the panic-stricken 


thoughts of the simple-minded girl. First one began: ‘Since the ties of 
blood forbid us to consider danger when your safety is at stake, let us 
show you the only way that can save you, one that we have long 
planned. Take a very sharp blade and give it an additional edge by 
stropping it gently on your palm, then surreptitiously hide it on your 
side of the bed; get ready a lamp and fill it with oil, then when it is 
burning brightly put it under cover of ajar of some kind, keeping all 
these preparations absolutely secret; and then, when he comes, 
leaving his furrowed trail behind him, and mounts the bed as usual, 

Page 71 

as he lies outstretched and, enfolded in his first heavy sleep, begins to 
breathe deeply, slip out of bed and with bare feet taking tiny steps 
one by one on tiptoe, free the lamp from its prison of blind darkness; 
and consulting the light as to the best moment for your glorious deed, 
with that two-edged weapon, boldly, first raising high your right 
hand, with powerful stroke, there where the deadly serpent’s head 
and neck are joined - cut them apart. Our help will not be wanting; 
the instant you have secured yourself by his death, we shall be 
anxiously awaiting the moment to fly to you; then we will take all 
these riches back along with you and make a desirable marriage for 
you, human being to human being.’ 


Their sister had been on fire; these words kindled her heart to a 
fierce flame. They immediately left her, fearing acutely to be found 
anywhere near such a crime. Carried back as usual on the wings of 
the wind and deposited on the rock, they at once made themselves 
scarce, embarked, and sailed away. But Psyche, alone now except for 
the savage Furies who harried her, was tossed to and fro in her 
anguish like the waves of the sea. Though she had taken her decision 
and made up her mind, now that she came to put her hand to the 
deed she began to waver, unsure of her resolve, torn by the 
conflicting emotions of her terrible situation. Now she was eager, 
now she would put it off; now she dared, now she drew back; now 
she was in despair, now in a rage; and, in a word, in one and the same 
body she loathed the monster and loved the husband. However, when 
evening ushered in the night, she hurried to prepare for her dreadful 
deed. Night came, and with, it her husband, who, having first 
engaged on the field of love, fell into a deep sleep. 

Then Psyche, though naturally weak in body, rallied her strength 
with cruel Fate reinforcing it, produced the lamp, seized the blade, 
and took on a man’s courage. But as soon as the light was brought out 
and the secret of their bed became plain, what she saw was of all wild 
beasts the most soft and sweet of monsters, none other than Cupid 
himself, the fair god fairly lying asleep. At the sight the flame of the 
lamp was gladdened and flared up, and her blade began to repent its 
blasphemous edge. Psyche, unnerved by the wonderful vision, was 
no longer mistress of herself: feeble, pale, trembling and powerless, 
she crouched down and tried to hide the steel by burying it in her 
own bosom; and she would certainly have done it, had not the steel in 
fear of such a crime slipped and flown out of her rash hands. Now, 
overcome and utterly lost as she was, yet as she gazed and gazed on 

Page 72 

the beauty of the god’s face, her spirits returned. She saw a rich head 
of golden hair dripping with ambrosia, a milk-white neck, and rosy 
cheeks over which there strayed coils of hair becomingly arranged, 
some hanging in front, some behind, shining with such extreme 
brilliance that the lamplight itself flickered uncertainly. On the 
shoulders of the flying god there sparkled wings, dewy-white with 
glistening sheen, and though they were at rest the soft delicate down 
at their edges quivered and rippled in incessant play. The rest of the 
god’s body was smooth and shining and such as Venus need not be 
ashamed of in her son. At the foot of the bed lay a bow, a quiver, and 
arrows, the gracious weapons of the great god. 


Curious as ever, Psyche could not restrain herself from examining 
and handling and admiring her husband’s weapons. She took one of 
the arrows out of the quiver and tried the point by pricking her 
thumb; but as her hands were still trembling she used too much 
force, so that the point went right in and tiny drops of blood bedewed 
her skin. Thus without realizing it Psyche through her own act fell in 
love with Love. Then ever more on fire with desire for Desire she 
hung over him gazing in distraction and devoured him with quick 
sensuous kisses, fearing all the time that he might wake up. Carried 
away by joy and sick with love, her heart was in turmoil; but 
meanwhile that wretched lamp, either through base treachery, or in 
jealous malice, or because it longed itself to touch such beauty and as 
it were to kiss it, disgorged from its spout a drop of hot oil on to the 
right shoulder of the god. What! Rash and reckless lamp, lowly 
instrument of love, to burn the lord of universal fire himself, when it 
must have been a lover who first invented the lamp so that he could 
enjoy his desires for even longer at night! The god, thus burned, leapt 
up, and seeing his confidence betrayed and sullied, flew off from the 
loving embrace of his unhappy wife without uttering a word. 


But as he rose Psyche just managed to seize his right leg with both 
hands, a pitiful passenger in his lofty flight; trailing attendance 
through the clouds she clung on underneath, but finally in her 
exhaustion fell to the ground. Her divine lover did not abandon her as 
she lay there, but alighting in a nearby cypress he spoke to her from 
its lofty top with deep emotion: ‘Simple-minded Psyche, forgetting 
the instructions of my mother Venus, who ordered that you should 
be bound by desire for the lowest of wretches and enslaved to a 
degrading marriage, I myself flew to you instead as your lover. But 
this I did, I know, recklessly; I, the famous archer, wounded myself 

Page 73 

with my own weapons and made you my wife - so that, it seems, 
you might look on me as a monster and cut off this head which 
carries these eyes that love you. This is what I again and again 
advised you to be always on your guard against; this is what I 
repeatedly warned of in my care for you. But those worthy 
counsellors of yours shall speedily pay the price of their pernicious 
teaching; your punishment shall merely be that I shall leave you.’ 
And with these last words he launched himself aloft on his wings. 


Psyche, as she lay and watched her husband’s flight for as long as 
she could see him, grieved and lamented bitterly. But when with 
sweeping wings he had soared away and she had altogether lost sight 
of him in the distance, she threw herself headlong off the bank of a 
nearby stream. But the gentle river, in respect it would seem for the 
god who is wont to scorch even water, and fearing for himself, 
immediately bore her up unharmed on his current and landed her on 
his grassy bank. It happened that the country god Pan was sitting 
there with the mountain nymph Echo in his arms, teaching her to 
repeat all kinds of song. By the bank his kids browsed and frolicked at 
large, cropping the greenery of the river. The goat-god, aware no 
matter how of her plight, called the lovesick and suffering Psyche to 
him kindly and caressed her with soothing words: ‘Pretty child, I 
may be a rustic and a herdsman, but age and experience have taught 
me a great deal. If I guess aright - and this indeed is what learned 
men style divination - from these tottering and uncertain steps of 
yours, and from your deathly pallor, and from your continual 
sighing, and from your swimming eyes, you are desperately in love. 
Listen to me then, and do not try to destroy yourself again by 
jumping off heights or by any other kind of unnatural death. Stop 
weeping and lay aside your grief; rather adore in prayer Cupid, 
greatest of gods, and strive to earn his favour, young wanton and 
pleasure-loving that he is, through tender service.’ 


These were the words of the herdsman-god. Psyche made no reply, 
but having worshipped his saving power went on her way. But when 
she had wandered far and wide with toilsome steps, as day waned she 
came without realizing it by a certain path to the city where the 
husband of one of her sisters was king. On discovering this, Psyche 
had herself announced to her sister. She was ushered in, and after 
they had exchanged greetings and embraces she was asked why she 
had come. Psyche replied: ‘You remember the advice you both gave 
me, how you persuaded me to kill with two-edged blade the monster 

Page 74 

who slept with me under the false name of husband, before he 
swallowed me up, poor wretch, in his greedy maw. I agreed; but as 
soon as with the conniving light I set eyes on his face, I saw a 
wonderful, a divine spectacle, the son of Venus himself, I mean 
Cupid, deeply and peacefully asleep. But as I was thrilling to the 
glorious sight, overwhelmed with pleasure but in anguish because I 
was powerless to enjoy it, by the unhappiest of chances the lamp 
spilt a drop of boiling oil on to his shoulder. Aroused instandy from 
sleep by the pain, and seeing me armed with steel and flame, “For 
this foul crime,” he said, “leave my bed this instant and take your 
chattels with you. I shall wed your sister” - and he named you - “in 
due form.” And immediately he ordered Zephyr to waft me outside 
the boundaries of his palace.’ 


Before Psyche had finished speaking, her sister, stung by frantic lust 
and malignant jealousy, concocted on the spot a story to deceive her 
husband, to the effect that she had had news of her parents’ death, 
and immediately took ship and hurried to the well-known rock. 
There, though the wind was blowing from quite a different quarter, 
yet besotted with blind hope she cried: ‘Receive me, Cupid, a wife 
worthy of you, and you, Zephyr, bear up your mistress’, and with a 
mighty leap threw herself over. But not even in death did she reach 
the place she sought: for as she fell from one rocky crag to another 
she was torn limb from limb, and she died providing a banquet of her 
mangled flesh, as she so richly deserved, for the birds of prey and 
wild beasts. The second vengeance soon followed. For Psyche again in 
her wanderings arrived at another city, where her second sister 
likewise lived. She too was no less readily taken in by her sister’s 
ruse, and eager to supplant her in an unhallowed marriage she 
hurried off to the rock and fell to a similar death. 


Meanwhile, as Psyche was scouring the earth, bent on her search 
for Cupid, he lay groaning with the pain of the burn in his mother’s 
chamber. At this point a tern, that pure white bird which skims over 
the sea-waves in its flight, plunged down swiftly to the very bottom 
of the sea. There sure enough was Venus bathing and swimming; and 
perching by her the bird told her that her son had been burned and 
lay suffering from the sharp pain of his wound and in peril of his 
life. Now throughout the whole world the good name of all Venus’ 
family was besmirched by all kinds of slanderous reports. People 
were saying: ‘Fie has withdrawn to whoring in the mountains, she to 
swimming in the sea; and so there is no pleasure anywhere, no grace, 

Page 75 

no charm, everything is rough, savage, uncouth. There are no more 
marriages, no more mutual friendships, no children’s love, nothing 
but endless squalor and repellent, distasteful, and sordid couplings.’ 
Such were the slanders this garrulous and meddlesome bird 
whispered in Venus’ ear to damage her son’s honour. Venus was 
utterly furious and exclaimed: ‘So then, this worthy son of mine has 
a mistress? You’re the only servant I have that I can trust: out with it, 
the name of this creature who has debauched a simple childish boy - 
is it one of the tribe of the Nymphs, or one of the number of the 
Hours, or one of the choir of the Muses, or one of my attendant 
Graces?’ The voluble bird answered promptly: ‘I do not know, my 
lady; but I think it’s a girl called Psyche, if I remember rightly, whom 
he loves to distraction.’ Venus, outraged, cried out loud: ‘Psyche is it, 
my rival in beauty, the usurper of my name, whom he loves? Really? 
I suppose my lord took me for a go-between to introduce him to the 

Proclaiming her wrongs in this way she hurriedly left the sea and 
went at once to her golden bedchamber, where she found her ailing 
son as she had been told. Hardly had she passed through the door 
when she started to shout at him: ‘Fine goings-on, these, a credit to 
our family and your character for virtue! First you ride roughshod 
over your mother’s - no, your sovereign’s - orders, by nottormenting 
my enemy with a base amour; then you, a mere child, actually 
receive her in your vicious adolescent embraces, so that I have to 
have my enemy as my daughter-in-law. I suppose you think, you 
odious good-for-nothing lecher, that you’re the only one fit to breed 
and that I’m now too old to conceive? Let me tell you, I’ll bear 
another son much better than you - better still, to make you feel the 
insult more, I’ll adopt one of my household slaves and give him those 
wings and torch, and bow and arrows too, and all that gear of mine, 
which I didn’t give you to be used like this - for there 


was no allowance for this outfit from your father’s estate. But you 
were badly brought up from a baby, quarrelsome, always insolently 
hitting your elders. Your own mother, me I say, you expose and 
abuse every day, battering me all the time, despising me, I suppose, 
as an unprotected female - and you’re not afraid of that mighty 
warrior your stepfather. Naturally enough, seeing that you’re in the 
habit of providing him with girls, to torment me with his infidelities. 
But I’ll see to it that you’re sorry for these games and find out that 
this marriage of yours has a sour and bitter taste. But now, being 

Page 76 

mocked like this, what am I to do? Where am I to turn? How am I to 
control this reptile? Shall I seek assistance from Sobriety, when I 
have so often offended her through this creature’s wantonness? No, I 
won’t, I won’t, have any dealings with such an uncouth and unkempt 
female. But then the consolation of revenge isn’t to be scorned, 
whatever its source. Her aid and hers alone is what I must enlist, to 
administer severe correction to this layabout, to undo his quiver, 
blunt his arrows, unstring his bow, put out his torch, and coerce him 
with some sharper corporal medicine. I’ll believe that his insolence 
to me has been fully atoned for only when she has shaved off the 
locks to which I have so often imparted a golden sheen by my 
caressing hands, and cut off the wings which I have groomed with 
nectar from my own breasts.’ 


With these words she rushed violently out in a fury of truly 
Venerean anger. The first persons she met were Ceres and Juno, who 
seeing her face all swollen with rage, asked her why she was 
frowning so grimly and spoiling the shining beauty of her eyes. To 
which she answered: ‘You’ve come just at the right moment to 
satisfy the desire with which my heart is burning. Please, I beg you, 
do your utmost to find that runaway fly-by-night Psyche for me, for 
you two must be well aware of the scandal of my house and of what 
my son - not that he deserves the name - has been doing.’ They, 
knowing perfectly well what had happened, tried to soothe Venus’ 
violent rage: ‘Madam, what has your son done that’s so dreadful that 
you are determined to thwart his pleasures and even want to destroy 
the one he loves? Is it really a crime, for heaven’s sake, to have been 
so ready to give the glad eye to a nice girl? Don’t you realize that he 
is a young man? You must have forgotten how old he is now. 
Perhaps because he carries his years so prettily, he always seems a 
boy to you? Are you, a mother and a woman of sense, to be forever 
inquiring into all his diversions, checking his little escapades, and 
showing up his love-affairs? Aren’t you condemning in your fair son 
your own arts and pleasures? Gods and men alike will find it 
intolerable that you spread desire broadcast throughout the world, 
while you impose a bitter constraint on love in your own family and 
deny it admission to your own public academy of gallantry.’ In this 
way, fearful of his arrows, did they flatter Cupid in his absence with 
their ingratiating defence of his cause. But Venus took it ill that her 
grievances should be treated so lightly, and cutting them short made 
off quickly in the other direction, back towards the sea. 

Page 77 


The story of Cupid and Psyche concluded — Lucius is 
lamed ana condemned to death by the robbers — 
makes a break for freedom with Charite on his back 
— recaptured — Charite condemned to death with 

1 Psyche meanwhile was wandering far and wide, searching day and 
night for her husband, and the sicker she was at heart, the more eager 
she was, if she could not mollify him by wifely endearments, at least 
to appease his anger by beseeching him as a slave. Seeing a temple on 
the top of a steep hill, ‘Perhaps,’ said she, ‘my lord lives there’; at 
once she made for it, her pace, which had flagged in her unbroken 
fatigues, now quickened by hope and desire. Having stoutly climbed 
the lofty slopes she approached the shrine. There she saw ears of 
corn, some heaped up, some woven into garlands, together with ears 
of barley. There were also sickles and every kind of harvesting gear, 
all lying anyhow in neglect and confusion and looking, as happens in 
summer, as if they had just been dropped from the workers’ hands. 
All these things Psyche carefully sorted and separated, each in its 
proper place, and arranged as they ought to be, thinking evidently 
that she should not neglect the shrines or worship of any god, but 
should implore the goodwill and pity of them all. 


She was diligently and busily engaged on this task when bountiful 
Ceres found her, and with a deep sigh said: ‘So, poor Psyche! There 
is Venus in her rage dogging your footsteps with painstaking 
inquiries through the whole world, singling you out for dire 
punishment, and demanding revenge with the whole power of her 
godhead; and here are you taking charge of my shrine and thinking of 
anything rather than your own safety.’ Psyche fell down before her, 
and bedewing her feet with a flood of tears, her hair trailing on the 
ground, she implored the goddess’s favour in an elaborate prayer: ‘I 
beseech you, by this your fructifying hand, by the fertile rites of 
harvest, by the inviolate secrets of the caskets, by the winged chariot 
of your dragon-servants, by the furrows of the Sicilian fields, by the 
car that snatches and the earth that catches, by your daughter 
Proserpine’s descent to her lightless wedding and her return to bright 
discovery, and all else that the sanctuary of Attic Eleusis conceals in 
silence: support the pitiful spirit of your suppliant Psyche. Allow me 
to hide for only a very few days among these heaps of corn, until the 
great goddess’s fierce anger is soothed by the passing of time or at 

Page 78 

least until my strength is recruited from the fatigues of long suffering 
by an interval of rest.’ Ceres answered: ‘Your tearful prayers 


indeed move me and make me wish to help you; but I cannot offend 
my kinswoman, who is a dear friend of long standing and a 
thoroughly good sort. So you must leave this place at once, and think 
yourself lucky that you are not my prisoner.’ 

Disappointed and rebuffed, the prey of a double sadness, Psyche 
was retracing her steps, when in the half-light of a wooded valley 
which lay before her she saw a temple built with cunning art. Not 
wishing to neglect any prospect, however doubtful, of better hopes, 
but willing to implore the favour of any and every god, she drew near 
to the holy entrance. There she saw precious offerings and cloths 
lettered in gold affixed to trees and to the doorposts, attesting the 
name of the goddess to whom they were dedicated in gratitude for 
her aid. Then, kneeling and embracing the yet warm altar, she 


wiped away her tears and prayed: ‘Sister and consort of great Jove, 
whether you are at home in your ancient shrine on Samos, which 
alone glories in having seen your birth, heard your first cries, and 
nourished your infancy; or whether you dwell in your rich abode in 
lofty Carthage, which worships you as a virgin riding the heavens on 
a lion; or whether by the bilks of Inachus, who hails you now as 
bride of the Thunderer and queen of goddesses, you rule over the 
famous citadel of Argos; you who are worshipped by the whole East 
as Zygia and whom all the West calls Lucina: be in my desperate need 
Juno who Saves, and save me, worn out by the great sufferings I have 
gone through, from the danger that hangs over me. Have I not been 
told that it is you who are wont to come uncalled to the aid of 
pregnant women when they are in peril?’ As she supplicated thus, 
Juno immediately manifested herself in all the awesome dignity of 
her godhead, and replied: ‘Believe me, I should like to grant your 
prayers. But I cannot for shame oppose myself to the wishes of my 
daughter-in-law Venus, whom I have always loved as my own child. 
Then too I am prevented by the laws which forbid me to receive 
another person’s runaway slaves against their master’s wishes.’ 

Psyche was completely disheartened by this second shipwreck that 
Fortune had contrived for her, and with no prospect of finding her 
winged husband she gave up all hope of salvation. So she took 

Page 79 

counsel with herself: ‘Now what other aid can I try, or bring to bear 
on my distresses, seeing that not even the goddesses’ influence can 
help me, though they would like to? Trapped in this net, where can I 
turn? What shelter is there, what dark hiding-place, where I can 
escape the unavoidable eyes of great Venus? No, this is the end: I 
must summon up a man’s spirit, boldly renounce my empty 
remnants of hope, give myself up to my mistress of my own free will, 
and appease her violence by submission, late though it will be. And 
perhaps he whom I have sought so long may be found there in his 
mother’s house.’ So, prepared for submission with all its dangers, 
indeed for certain destruction, she thought over how she should 
begin the prayer she would utter. 

Venus, however, had given up earthbound expedients in her search, 
and set off for heaven. She ordered to be prepared the car that Vulcan 
the goldsmith god had lovingly perfected with cunning workmanship 
and given her as a betrothal present — a work of art that made its 
impression by what his refining tools had pared away, valuable 
through the very loss of gold. Of the many doves quartered round 
their mistress’s chamber there came forth four all white; stepping 
joyfully and twisting their coloured necks around they submitted to 
the jewelled yoke, then with their mistress on board they gaily took 
the air. The car was attended by a retinue of sportive sparrows 
frolicking around with their noisy chatter, and of other sweet-voiced 
birds who, singing in honey-toned strains, harmoniously proclaimed 
the advent of the goddess. The clouds parted, heaven opened for his 
daughter, and highest Aether joyfully welcomed the goddess; great 
Venus’ tuneful entourage has no fear of ambushes from eagles or 
rapacious hawks. 

She immediately headed for Jove’s royal citadel and haughtily 
demanded an essential loan — the services of Mercury, the loud- 
voiced god. Jove nodded his dark brow, and she in triumph left 
heaven then and there with Mercury, to whom she earnestly spoke: 
‘Arcadian brother, you know well that your sister Venus has never 
done anything without Mercury’s assistance, and you must be aware 
too of how long it is that I have been trying in vain to find my 
skulking handmaid. All we can do now is for you as herald to make 
public proclamation of a reward for her discovery. Do my bidding 
then at once, and describe clearly the signs by which she can be 
recognized, so that if anybody is charged with illegally concealing 
her, he cannot defend himself with a plea of ignorance’; and with 

Page 80 

these words she gave him a paper with Psyche’s name and the other 
details. That done, she returned straight home. 

Mercury duly obeyed her. Passing far and wide among the peoples 
he carried out his assignment and made proclamation as ordered: ‘If 
any man can recapture or show the hiding-place of a king’s runaway 
daughter, the slave of Venus, by name Psyche, let him report to 
Mercury the crier behind the South turning-point of the Circus, and 
by way of reward for his information he shall receive from Venus 
herself seven sweet kisses and an extra one deeply honeyed with the 
sweetness of her thrusting tongue.’ This proclamation of Mercury’s 
and the desire for such a reward aroused eager competition all over 
the world. Its effect on Psyche was to put an end to all her hesitation. 
As she neared her mistress’s door she was met by one of Venus’ 
household named Habit, who on seeing her cried out at the top of 
her voice: ‘At last, you worthless slut, you’ve begun to realize you 
have a mistress? Or will you with your usual impudence pretend 
you don’t know how much trouble we’ve had looking for you? A 
good thing you’ve fallen into my hands; you’re held in the grip of 
Orcus, and you can be sure you won’t have to wait long for the 

punishment of your disobedience.’ So saying, she laid violent hands 
on Psyche’s hair and dragged her inside unresisting. As soon as Venus 
saw her brought in and presented to her, she laughed shrilly, as 
people do in a rage; and shaking her head and scratching her right 
ear, ‘So,’ she said, ‘you have finally condescended to pay your 
respects to your mother-in-law? Or is it your husband you’ve come 
to visit, who lies under threat of death from the wound you’ve dealt 
him? But don’t worry, I will receive you as a good daughter-in-law 
deserves.’ Then, ‘Where are my handmaids Care and Sorrow?’ she 
asked. They were called in, and Psyche was handed over to them to 
be tormented. In obedience to their mistress’s orders they whipped 
the wretched girl and afflicted her with every other kind of torture, 
and then brought her back to face the goddess. Venus, laughing again, 
exclaimed: ‘Look at her, trying to arouse my pity through the 
allurement of her swollen belly, whose glorious offspring is to make 
me, thank you very much, a happy grandmother. What joy, to be 
called grandmother in the flower of my age and to hear the son of a 
vile slave styled Venus’ grandson! But why am I talking about sons? 
This isn’t a marriage between equals, and what’s more it took place in 
the country, without witnesses, and without his father’s consent, and 
can’t be held to be legitimate. So it will be born a bastard, if indeed I 

Page 81 

allow you to bear it at all.’ 


With these words, she flew at Psyche, ripped her clothes to shreds, 
tore her hair, boxed her ears, and beat her unmercifully. Then she 
took wheat and barley and millet and poppy-seed and chick-peas and 
lentils and beans, mixed them thoroughly all together in a single 
heap, and told Psyche: ‘Now, since it seems to me that, ugly slave 
that you are, you can earn the favours of your lovers only by diligent 
drudgery, I’m now going to put your merit to the test myself. Sort 
out this random heap of seeds, and let me see the work completed 
this evening, with each kind of grain properly arranged and 
separated.’ And leaving her with the enormous heap of grains, Venus 
went off to a wedding-dinner. Psyche did not attempt to touch the 
disordered and unmanageable mass, but stood in silent stupefaction, 
stunned by this monstrous command. Then there appeared an ant, 
one of those miniature farmers; grasping the size of the problem, 
pitying the plight of the great god’s bedfellow and execrating her 
mother-in-law’s cruelty, it rushed round eagerly to summon and 
convene the whole assembly of the local ants. ‘Have pity,’ it cried, 
‘nimble children of Earth the all-mother, have pity and run with all 
speed to the aid of the sweet girl-wife of Love in her peril.’ In wave 
after wave the six-footed tribes poured in to the rescue, and working 
at top speed they sorted out the whole heap grain by grain, separated 
and distributed the seed by kinds, and vanished swiftly from view. 

At nightfall Venus returned from the banquet flushed with wine, 
fragrant with perfume, and garlanded all over with brilliant roses. 
When she saw the wonderful exactness with which the task had been 
performed, ‘Worthless wretch!’ she exclaimed, ‘this is not your doing 
or the work of your hands, but his whose fancy you have taken — so 
much the worse indeed for you, and for him’; and throwing Psyche a 
crust of coarse bread she took herself to bed. Meanwhile Cupid was 
under strict guard, in solitary confinement in one room at the back of 
the palace, partly to stop him from aggravating his wound through 
his impetuous passion, partly to stop him from seeing his beloved. 
So then the two lovers, though under the same roof, were kept apart 
and endured a melancholy night. As soon as Dawn took horse, Venus 
called Psyche and said: ‘You see that wood which stretches along the 
banks of the river which washes it in passing, and the bushes at its 
edge which look down on the nearby spring? Sheep that shine with 
fleece of real gold wander and graze there unguarded. Of that 
precious wool see that you get a tuft by hook or by crook and bring it 

Page 82 

to me directly.’ 


Psyche set out willingly, not because she expected to fulfil her task, 
but meaning to find a respite from her sufferings by throwing herself 
from a rock into the river. But then from the river a green reed, 
source of sweet music, divinely inspired by the gentle whisper of the 
soft breeze, thus prophesied: ‘Psyche, tried by much suffering, do 
not pollute my holy waters by your pitiable death. This is not the 
moment to approach these fearsome sheep, while they are taking in 
heat from the blazing sun and are maddened by fierce rage; their 
horns are sharp and their foreheads hard as stone, and they often 
attack and kill men with their poisonous bites. Rather, until the 
midday heat of the sun abates and the flock is quietened by the 
soothing breeze off the river, you can hide under that tall plane 
which drinks the current together with me. Then, when their rage is 
calmed and their attention is relaxed, shake the branches of the 
nearby trees, and you will find the golden wool which sticks 
everywhere in their entwined stems.’ 


So this open-hearted reed in its humanity showed the unfortunate 
Psyche the way to safety. She paid due heed to its salutary advice 
and acted accordingly: she did everything she was told and had no 
trouble in helping herself to a heaped-up armful of the golden 
softness to bring back to Venus. Not that, from her mistress at least, 
the successful outcome of her second trial earned her any approval. 
Venus bent her brows and with an acid smile said: ‘I am not deceived: 
this exploit too is that lecher’s. Now, however, I shall really exert 
myself to find out whether you have a truly stout heart and a good 
head on your shoulders. You see the top of the steep mountain that 
looms over that lofty crag, from which there flows down the dark 
waters of a black spring, to be received in a basin of the neighbouring 
valley, and then to water the marshes of Styx and feed the hoarse 
streams of Cocytus? There, just where the spring gushes out on the 
very summit, draw off its ice-cold water and bring it to me instantly 
in this jar.’ So saying she gave her an urn hollowed out from crystal, 
adding yet direr threats. 


Psyche eagerly quickened her pace towards the mountain-top, 
expecting to find at least an end of her wretched existence there. But 
as soon as she approached the summit that Venus had shown her, 
she saw the deadly difficulty of her enormous task. There stood a 

Page 83 

rock, huge and lofty, too rough and treacherous to climb; from jaws 
of stone in its midst it poured out its grim stream, which first gushed 
from a sloping cleft, then plunged steeply to be hidden in the narrow 
channel of the path it had carved out for itself, and so to fall by secret 
ways into the neighbouring valley. To left and right she saw emerging 
from the rocky hollows fierce serpents with long necks outstretched, 
their eyes enslaved to unwinking vigilance, forever on the watch and 
incessantly wakeful. And now the very water defended itself in 
speech, crying out repeatedly ‘Be off!’ and ‘What are you doing? Look 
out!’ and ‘What are you about? Take care!’ and ‘Fly!’ and ‘You’ll die!’ 
Psyche was turned to stone by the sheer impossibility of her task, 
and though her body was present her senses left her: overwhelmed 
completely by the weight of dangers she was powerless to cope with, 
she could not even weep, the last consolation. 


But the suffering of this innocent soul did not escape the august 
eyes of Providence. For the regal bird of almighty Jove, the ravisher 
eagle, suddenly appeared with outspread wings, and remembering his 
former service, how prompted by Cupid he had stolen the Phrygian 
cupbearer for Jupiter, brought timely aid. In honour of the god’s 
power, and seeing his wife’s distress, he left Jove’s pathways in the 
heights, and gliding down before the girl he addressed her: ‘Do you, 
naive as you are and inexperienced in such things, hope to be able to 
steal a single drop of this most holy and no less terrible spring, or 
even touch it? You must have heard that this water of Styx is feared 
by the gods themselves, even Jupiter, and that the oaths which 
mortals swear by the power of the gods, the gods swear by the 
majesty of Styx. Give me that urn’ — and seizing and holding it he 
took off, and poising himself on his mighty hovering wings he 
steered to left and right between the raging jaws and flickering three- 
forked tongues of the dragons, to draw off the waters, though they 
resisted and warned him to retreat while he could do so in safety — 
he pretending meanwhile that he had been ordered to fetch it by 
Venus and that he was in her service; and thus it was a little easier 
for him to approach. 


Psyche joyfully received the full urn and took it back at once to 
Venus. Even then, however, she could not satisfy the wishes of the 
cruel goddess. Threatening her with yet worse outrages, she 
addressed Psyche with a deadly smile: ‘I really think you must be 
some sort of great and profoundly accomplished witch to have 
carried out so promptly orders like these of mine. But you still have 

Page 84 

to do me this service, my dear. Take this casket’ (giving it to her) 
‘and be off with you to the Underworld and the ghostly abode of 
Orcus himself. Present it to Proserpine and say: “Venus begs that you 
send her a little of your beauty, enough at least for one short day. For 
the supply that she had, she has quite used up and exhausted in 
looking after her ailing son.” Come back in good time, for I must 
make myself up from it before going to the theatre of the gods.’ 


Then indeed Psyche knew that her last hour had come and that all 
disguise was at an end, and that she was being openly sent to instant 
destruction. So much was clear, seeing that she was being made to go 
on her own two feet to Tartarus and the shades. Without delay she 
made for a certain lofty tower, meaning to throw herself off it: for in 
that way she thought she could most directly and economically go 
down to the Underworld. But the tower suddenly broke into speech: 
‘Why, poor child, do you want to destroy yourself by a death-leap? 
Why needlessly give up at this last ordeal? Once your soul is 
separated from your body, then indeed you will go straight to the pit 
of Tartarus, but there will be no coming back for 


you. Listen to me. Not far from here is Sparta, a famous city of 
Greece. Near to it, hidden in a trackless countryside, you must find 
Taenarus. There you’ll see the breathing-hole of Dis, and through its 
gaping portals the forbidden road; once you have passed the 
threshold and entrusted yourself to it, you will fare by a direct track 
to the very palace of Orcus. But you must not go through that 
darkness empty-handed as you are; you must carry in your hands 
cakes of barley meal soaked in wine and honey, and in your mouth 
two coins. When you have gone a good way along the infernal road 
you will meet a lame donkey loaded with wood and with a lame 
driver; he will ask you to hand him some sticks fallen from the load, 
but you must say nothing and pass by in silence. Directly after that 
you will come to the river of death. Its harbourmaster is Charon, 
who ferries wayfarers to the other bank in his boat of skins only on 
payment of the fee which he immediately demands. So it seems that 
avarice lives even among the dead, and a great god like Charon, Dis’s 
Collector, does nothing for nothing. A poor man on his deathbed must 
make sure of his journey-money, and if he hasn’t got the coppers to 
hand, he won’t be allowed to expire. To this unkempt old man you 
must give one of your coins as his fare, making him take it himself 
from your mouth. Then, while you are crossing the sluggish stream, 
an old dead man swimming over will raise his decaying hands to ask 

Page 85 

you to haul him aboard; but you 


must not be swayed by pity, which is forbidden to you. When you 
are across and have gone a little way, some old women weavers will 
ask you to lend a hand for a moment to set up their loom; but here 
too you must not become involved. For all these and many other 
ruses will be inspired by Venus to make you drop one of your cakes. 
Don’t think the loss of a paltry barley cake a light thing: if you lose 
one you will thereby lose the light of the sun. For a huge dog with 
three enormous heads, a monstrous and fearsome brute, barking 
thunderously and with empty menace at the dead, whom he can no 
longer harm, is on perpetual guard before the threshold and dark 
halls of Proserpine, and watches over the empty house of Dis. Him 
you can muzzle by letting him have one of your cakes; passing him 
easily by you will come directly to Proserpine, who will receive you 
kindly and courteously, urging you to take a soft seat and join her in a 
rich repast. But you must sit on the ground and ask for some coarse 
bread; when you have eaten it you can tell her why you have come, 
and then taking what you are given you can return. Buy off the fierce 
dog with your other cake, and then giving the greedy ferryman the 
coin you have kept you will cross the river and retrace your earlier 
path until you regain the light of heaven above. But this prohibition 
above all I bid you observe: do not open or look into the box that you 
bear or pry at all into its hidden store of divine beauty.’ 


So this far-sighted tower accomplished its prophetic task. Psyche 
without delay made for Taenarus, where she duly equipped herself 
with coins and cakes and made the descent to the Underworld. 
Passing in silence the lame donkey-driver, paying her fare to the 
ferryman, ignoring the plea of the dead swimmer, rejecting the crafty 
entreaties of the weavers, and appeasing the fearsome rage of the dog 
with her cake, she arrived at Proserpine’s palace. She declined her 
hostess’s offer of a soft seat and rich food, and sitting on the ground 
before her feet, content with a piece of coarse bread, she reported 
Venus’ commission. The box was immediately taken away to be filled 
and closed up in private, and given back to Psyche. By the device of 
the second cake she muzzled the dog’s barking, and giving the 
ferryman her second coin she returned from the Underworld much 
more briskly than she had come. Having regained and worshipped 
the bright light of day, though in a hurry to complete her mission, 
she madly succumbed to her reckless curiosity. ‘What a fool I am,’ 
said she, ‘to be carrying divine beauty and not to help myself even to 

Page 86 

a tiny bit of it, so as perhaps to please my beautiful 


lover.’ So saying she opened the box. But she found nothing whatever 
in it, no beauty, but only an infernal sleep, a sleep truly Stygian, 
which when the lid was taken off and it was let out at once took 
possession of her and diffused itself in a black cloud of oblivion 
throughout her whole body, so that overcome by it she collapsed on 
the spot where she stood in the pathway, and lay motionless, a mere 
sleeping corpse. 

But Cupid’s wound had now healed and, his strength returned, he 
could no longer bear to be parted for so long from Psyche. He escaped 
from the high window of the room in which he was confined; and, 
with his wings restored by his long rest, he flew off at great speed to 
the side of his Psyche. Carefully wiping off the sleep and replacing it 
where it had been in the box, he roused her with a harmless prick 
from one of his arrows. ‘There, poor wretch,’ he said, ‘you see how 
yet again curiosity has been your undoing. But meanwhile you must 
complete the mission assigned you by my mother with all diligence; 
the rest I will see to.’ So saying, her lover nimbly took flight, while 
Psyche quickly took back Proserpine’s gift to Venus. 


Meanwhile Cupid, eaten up with love, looking ill, and dreading his 
mother’s new-found austerity, became himself again. On swift wings 
he made his way to the very summit of heaven and pleaded his cause 
as a suppliant with great Jupiter. Jupiter took Cupid’s face in his 
hand, pulled it to his own, and kissed him, saying: ‘In spite of the 
fact, dear boy, that you have never paid me the respect decreed me 
by the gods in council, but have constantly shot and wounded this 
breast of mine by which the behaviour of the elements and the 
movements of the heavenly bodies are regulated, defiling it 
repeatedly with lustful adventures on earth, compromising my 
reputation and character by low intrigues in defiance of the laws, the 
Lex Julia included, and of public morals, changing my majestic 
features into the base shapes of snakes, of fire, of wild animals, of 
birds and of farmyard beasts — yet in spite of all, remembering my 
clemency and that you grew up in my care, I will do what you ask. 
But you must take care to guard against your rivals; and if there is 
now any pre-eminently lovely girl on earth, you are bound to pay me 
back with her for this good turn.’ 


Page 87 

So saying, he ordered Mercury to summon all the gods immediately 
to assembly, proclaiming that any absentees from this heavenly 
meeting would be liable to a fine of ten thousand sesterces. This 
threat at once filled the divine theatre; and Jupiter, towering on his 
lofty throne, announced his decision. ‘Conscript deities enrolled in 
the register of the Muses, you undoubtedly know this young man 
well, and how I have reared him with my own hands. I have decided 
that the hot-blooded impulses of his first youth must somehow be 
bridled; his name has been besmirched long enough in common 
report by adultery and all kinds of licentious behaviour. We must 
take away all opportunity for this and confine his youthful excess in 
the bonds of marriage. He has chosen a girl and had her virginity: let 
him have and hold her, and embracing Psyche for ever enjoy his 
beloved.’ Then turning to Venus, ‘Daughter,’ he said, ‘do not be 
downcast or fear for your great lineage or social standing because of 
this marriage with a mortal. I shall arrange for it to be not unequal 
but legitimate and in accordance with the civil law.’ Then he ordered 
Psyche to be brought by Mercury and introduced into heaven. 
Handing her a cup of ambrosia, ‘Take this, Psyche,’ he said, ‘and be 
immortal. Never shall Cupid quit the tie that binds you, but this 
marriage shall be perpetual for you both.’ 


No sooner said than done: a lavish wedding-feast appeared. In the 
place of honour reclined Psyche’s husband, with his wife in his 
arms, and likewise Jupiter with his Juno, and then the other gods in 
order of precedence. Cups of nectar were served to Jove by his own 
cupbearer, the shepherd lad, and to the others by Liber; Vulcan 
cooked the dinner; the Seasons made everything colourful with roses 
and other flowers; the Graces sprinkled perfumes; the Muses 
discoursed tuneful music. Then Apollo sang to the lyre, and Venus, 
fitting her steps to the sweet music, danced in all her beauty, having 
arranged a production in which the Muses were chorus and played 
the tibia, while a Satyr and a little Pan sang to the shepherd’s pipe. 

Thus was Psyche married to Cupid with all proper ceremony, and 
when her time came there was born to them a daughter, whom we 
call Pleasure. 

25 That then was the tale told by the drunken garrulous old woman to 
the captive girl. I meanwhile was standing close by, vexed that I 
lacked the means of writing down such a pretty story. At this point 
the robbers returned loaded with plunder, having evidently been 
involved in some serious fighting. However, I gathered that some of 
the more enterprising of them were in a hurry to go back and retrieve 

Page 88 

the rest of their booty from where they had hidden it in some cave or 
other, leaving the wounded behind to look after their injuries. So they 
wolfed down some supper, and then brought me and my horse out to 
go with them and collect the stuff, urging us on our way with a rain 
of blows. The road was long, hilly, and winding, and it was evening 
when we finally came, exhausted, to the cave, where, without 
allowing us the least breathing-space, they loaded us heavily and 
drove us back at full speed. They were in such a hurry and beat me on 
so savagely that I stumbled over a stone by the roadside and fell. This 
provoked further beating, but enfeebled as I now was and lame on 
both sides, they had the utmost difficulty 


in getting me on my feet again. ‘How long,’ said one of them, ‘are we 
going to go on wasting fodder on this clapped-out ass? Now he’s lame 
into the bargain.’ ‘Yes,’ said another, ‘it’s an ill-omened beast. Ever 
since we got him we’ve had no gains worth mentioning, only wounds 
and the loss of our bravest comrades.’ ‘As far as I’m concerned,’ said 
another, ‘he’ll deliver these bundles whether he likes it or not, and 
then I’ll pitch him over a cliff for the vultures to enjoy.’ 

While these paragons of humanity were still arguing about how to 
dispose of me, we had arrived back home — for fear had lent wings 
to my hooves. Our loads were quickly taken off; and then, with no 
regard for the welfare of their animals or the question of my death, 
they pressed into service the wounded who had previously been left 
behind, to go with them and bring back the rest of the plunder, being, 
as they said, fed up with our slowness. Meanwhile I was the prey of 
desperate anxiety as I thought about the death that threatened me. 
‘Come on, Lucius,’ I said to myself, ‘why stand about waiting for the 
end? Death — and a horrible one — is what these brigands have 
decided is in store for you. It won’t be any trouble to carry out the 
sentence: there are those ravines over there bristling with jagged 
rocks — they’ll pierce you through and tear you apart before you 
reach the bottom. That wonderful magic of yours has equipped you 
with an ass’s shape and an ass’s hard life, but not his thick skin; 
yours is as thin as a leech’s. So, why not play the man at last and save 
your life while you can? This is your last chance to escape, while the 
robbers are out of the way. You surely aren’t afraid of a guard that 
consists of an old woman with one foot in the grave? Lame though 
you are, you can finish her off with one kick. But where in the world 
are you to flee to, and who will take you in? A silly question, a really 
asinine one: any passer-by will be glad to carry off a mount to carry 
him on his way.’ 

Page 89 


And with a vigorous pull I broke my halter and took off at a gallop. I 
didn’t however succeed in eluding the kite-like vision of that crafty 
old hag. Seeing me free, with a boldness that belied her age and sex 
she grabbed my halter and tried as hard as she could to wrench my 
head round and bring me back. Remembering the robbers’ atrocious 
intentions, I had no compunction about lashing out at her with my 
hind hooves and dashing her to the ground. But even sprawled on the 
ground she hung on doggedly and trailed along behind me in my 
flight for quite a distance, at the same time screaming loudly for help 
from some stronger hand. Her shouting and weeping had no effect, as 
there was nobody there who could help her, except for the captive 
girl. Alarmed by the outcry, she ran out and beheld a truly 
memorable scene: a Dirce in the shape of an old woman, fastened not 
to a bull but to an ass. With a man’s resolution she brought off a 
superbly daring exploit: tearing the bridle from the old woman’s 
hands she slowed me down in my flight with soothing noises, vaulted 
nimbly on my back, and then urged me once more into a gallop. 


My own desire to escape and my eagerness to rescue the girl, not 
forgetting the occasional touches of the whip with which she 
encouraged me, all combined to send me flying along with thundering 
hooves at racehorse speed. As we went, I was trying to whinny 
endearments to her, and every now and then, while pretending to 
scratch my back, I would turn my head to nuzzle her pretty feet. She 
meanwhile, sighing deeply and looking anxiously up to heaven, was 
praying: ‘You gods above, assist me in my desperate peril, and you, 
cruel Fortune, let there now be an end to your savagery: I have surely 
suffered and sorrowed enough to appease you. As for you, protector 
of my life and liberty, if you bring me home and restore me 
unharmed to my parents and my handsome bridegroom, you shall 
have all the thanks, all the honours, all the food, that are mine to 
bestow. The first thing I shall do is to comb this mane of yours nicely 
and adorn it with my girlish jewellery; then I’ll curl your fringe and 
plait it becomingly; then I’ll give your tail, which is rough and 
matted for want of washing, a thorough grooming; and in a caparison 
glittering with a myriad gold studs like the stars in heaven you shall 
process in triumph amid the rejoicings of the people. Every day I 
shall bring you nuts and other delicacies 


in a fold of my silk gown, and feed you, my deliverer, myself. But fine 

Page 90 

food and endless leisure and utter material well-being will not be all: 
glory and honour shall also be yours, for I shall signalize the memory 
of today’s happy events and the intervention of divine Providence by 
a testimony that will outlive us. In the hall of my house I shall 
dedicate a picture of this flight of ours. People will come to see it, 
and the artless story of “The Princess who escaped from Captivity on 
the back of an Ass” will be told around the world and immortalized in 
the pages of the learned. You too will join the catalogue of the 
Wonders of Old, and your true example will lead us to believe that 
Phrixus really did make his crossing on the ram, that Arion rode the 
dolphin, and that Europa perched on the bull. And if it was in fact 
Jupiter who bellowed in the guise of the bull, well, perhaps there 
lurks in this ass of mine the shape of a man or the form of a god.’ 

While the girl was going on in this vein, her prayers repeatedly 
intermingled with sighs, we had come to a crossroads. She was 
hauling on my bridle in a determined effort to make me go to the 
right, because that was her way home. I knew that this was also the 
road that the robbers had taken to recover the rest of their plunder, 
and stoutly resisted, protesting silently in my mind: ‘Unhappy girl, 
what are you doing, for God’s sake? Do you want to go straight to 
perdition? Why make me take you there? It’s not just you, it’s me 
you’re going to do for.’ And while we were pulling in opposite ways 
like this, like neighbours at law with each other over boundaries — 
though in this case it was apportionment of the road rather than the 
ownership of land that was in dispute — the robbers appeared loaded 
with their spoils and caught us fair and square, having seen us 
already from some way off by the light of the moon. 


They greeted us with mocking laughter, and one of them hailed us: 
‘Whither away? What’s this hasty moonlight flit? Aren’t you afraid of 
ghosts and bogies at this time of night? You must have been in a great 
hurry, dutiful daughter that you are, to see your parents! Better let 
us protect your solitary state and show you the shortest way back 
home.’ And suiting the action to the word he seized my bridle and 
wrenched my head around, not sparing me the usual beating from 
the knotty stick he carried. Now that I was being forced to return to 
imminent death, I remembered my sore hooves and began to limp 
with drooping head. ‘So!’ said the man who had tugged me round, 
‘you’re stumbling and limping again, are you? Those feeble feet of 
yours can gallop, but they can’t walk — only a moment ago you were 
out flying Pegasus.’ While my amiable friend, with whacks from his 
stick, was joking in this way with me, we had come to the outer 

Page 91 

defences of their stronghold. There what should we find but the old 
woman hanging by the neck from a branch of a tall cypress tree. They 
simply took her down and threw her as she was, noose and all, over 
the cliff; then they fettered the girl and fell like starving animals on 
the supper which the old woman, diligent even in death, had left 
ready for them. 


While they were voraciously dispatching everything in sight they 
started to deliberate about our punishment and their revenge. As 
usual in such an unruly crowd there was lively disagreement. One 
wanted the girl to be burned alive, another said she should be thrown 
to the beasts, a third thought she should be crucified, and a fourth 
was all for torturing her to death; the one point on which they were 
unanimous was that die she must. Then, when the hubbub had died 
down, one quietly took up the running. ‘It is repugnant,’ he said, 
‘both to our principles as professionals and our humanity as 
individuals, not to mention my own ideas of moderation, to allow 
you to punish this crime more savagely than it merits. Rather than 
invoking the beasts or the cross or fire or torture, or even giving her 
a quick death, if you will be guided by me you will grant the girl her 
life — but in the form that she deserves. You won’t, I’m sure, have 
forgotten what you’ve already decided to do with that bone-idle ass 
that does nothing but eat; deceitful too, shamming lame and aiding 
and abetting the girl’s escape. My proposal therefore is that 
tomorrow we slaughter him, remove his insides, and sew the girl up 
in his belly naked — since he prefers her company to ours — with 
just her head showing and the rest of her hugged tight in his bestial 
embrace. Then we’ll leave this dainty dish of stuffed donkey on 


some rocky crag to cook in the heat of the sun. In that way both of 
them will undergo all the punishments to which you have so justly 
sentenced them. The ass will die as he richly deserves; the girl will be 
torn by beasts when the worms gnaw her, she will be roasted when 
the blazing sun scorches the ass’s belly, and she will be gibbeted when 
the dogs and vultures drag out her entrails. And think of all her other 
sufferings and torments: to dwell alive in the belly of a dead animal, 
to suffocate in an intolerable stench, to waste away and die of 
prolonged fasting, and not even to have her hands free to compass her 
own death.’ 

He had hardly finished before the robbers carried his motion by 
acclamation without troubling to vote. As for me, listening to this 

Page 92 

with every inch of my long ears, I could do nothing but mourn for 
the corpse that I would be next morning. 

Page 93 


Haemus appears and takes command - revealed as 
Charite's lover Tlepolemus in disguise - she is 
rescued and the robbers exterminated - she makes 
much of Lucius - he is sent out to grass - yoked to the 
mill - attacked by the stallions - persecuted by a 
cruel boy - threatened with castration - blamed for 
the boy's death 

1 The darkness was just giving way to daylight and the sun’s shining 
chariot was just beginning to brighten the world when another robber 
appeared on the scene - at least so he must have been from the 
greetings that passed. He sat down at the entrance to the cave, and 
when he had got his breath back he made the following report to his 

‘So far as the business of plundering Milo’s house is concerned, we 
can dismiss our worries and relax. After you had bravely cleared the 
place out and returned to camp, I mingled with the crowd of 
townspeople, pretending to share their anger and indignation, so as to 
discover and report back to you, as you had ordered, what was going 
to be decided about investigating the affair and how far the search for 
the perpetrators was to be taken. The whole lot of them were agreed 
that the obvious culprit was some man called Lucius. This was not 
mere guesswork, the evidence was plain: within the last few days he 
had passed himself off to Milo as a respectable character by a forged 
letter of introduction, and had so successfully won his confidence 
that he was received into his house as a guest and treated as an 
intimate friend. In the course of a few days he had wormed his way 
into the affections of Milo’s maid by pretending to fall in love with 
her. That enabled him to carry out a thorough inspection of the lock 
on the front door and to reconnoitre the part 


of the house where all the family property was stored. As a 
conclusive proof that he was the villain of the piece it was pointed 
out that he had disappeared that night at the very moment of the 
robbery and had not been seen since. To assist his escape and to 
enable him to foil his pursuers and hole up at a safe distance, he had 
the means at hand in the shape of the white horse that he had 
brought with him to aid his getaway. They had found his slave still 
in the house and had of course arrested him and imprisoned him on 
the order of the magistrates, expecting him to provide evidence of 

Page 94 

his master’s nefarious plans. However, when next day he had been 
put to all kinds of tortures, though he nearly died in the process, he 
made no admission of any kind. Nevertheless several messengers had 
been dispatched to Lucius’ home town to find him and bring him to 

Listening to this story and comparing Lucius as he had been and his 
former happy condition with the woes of the wretched ass that he 
now was, I groaned within myself. The learned men of old, I reflected, 
knew what they were talking about when they envisaged and 
portrayed Fortune as totally blind. It is invariably on the wicked and 
undeserving, I thought, that she bestows her favours; her choices are 
never grounded on reason, indeed she goes out of her way to frequent 
the company of those she ought to avoid like the plague if she could 
see. And the worst of it is that she distributes reputation so 
capriciously, indeed downright perversely: the evildoer glories in the 
character of a man of virtue, while the innocent is branded as a 

criminal. Here was I, cruelly attacked and transformed by her into the 
shape of a beast, and one of the lowest sort at that, reduced to a 
condition which might inspire grief and pity in my worst enemy, 
accused of robbing a dear friend and host - indeed parricide would be 
a more accurate name for it than robbery. And I was not in a position 
to defend myself or to utter a single word of denial. However, I 
thought that if I stayed silent when such a heinous charge was 
brought against me in my presence, it might seem that I assented to it 
because I had a guilty conscience. This I could not endure, and I tried 
at least to call out ‘No, I didn’t do it!’ The ‘No’ I did utter again and 
again at the top of my voice, but the rest I couldn’t manage; try as I 
might to round out the vigorous vibration of my hanging lips, I 
couldn’t get beyond the first word and just went on braying ‘No, no’. 
But what is the point of stringing out complaints against the 
perversity of Fortune? She even had no compunction about allowing 
me to become the fellow slave and yokemate of the horse who had 
formerly been my servant and mount. 

Harassed by such thoughts as these, I was suddenly struck by a 
more pressing anxiety, when I recollected the robbers’ decision to 
sacrifice me to Charite’s ghost; and I kept looking down at my belly 
and imagining myself already pregnant with the wretched girl. 
Meanwhile the fellow who had just reported this false indictment 
against me produced a thousand gold pieces that he had hidden by 

Page 95 

sewing them into his clothing, which he said he had taken off 
various wayfarers, and by way of demonstrating his honesty paid 
them into the common treasury. Then he began to ask earnestly after 
the fate of his comrades. On learning that several of them, the bravest 
indeed, had been lost in various ways on active service, he proposed 
that they should give the roads a spell of peace for a time and declare 
a truce in their campaigning in order to concentrate on recruiting, so 
as to restore their forces to full strength and fighting efficiency by a 
new intake of manpower. The reluctant could be terrified into 
enlisting, the willing would be attracted by the prospect of loot, and 
there would be many who would be happy to renounce a 
downtrodden and slavish existence for a life of almost princely 
power. He himself had just met a man who was tall, young, heftily 
built, muscular and vigorous, and after some urging had persuaded 
him to turn to more profitable employment powers which had for 
too long been idle and torpid, to make the most of the boon of good 
health while he could, and to use those strong hands of his for raking 
in riches rather than holding them out for charity. 


This was unanimously carried, and they agreed to enrol this man, as 
he seemed to have the right qualifications, and to beat up for more 
recruits to bring the company up to strength. His proposer went out 
and shortly returned bringing with him a young man of immense 
size, just as he had promised; nobody else there could hold a candle 
to him, for he was not only massively built but taller by a head than 
anybody present - this though his beard was only just beginning to 
sprout. He was dressed in a motley collection of rags, precariously 
stitched together, which only half covered him, so that his midriff 
with its thick layer of muscle could be seen peeping through. 

That was how he looked as he stood there. ‘Votaries of mighty Mars 
and fellow soldiers, as I may already call you,’ he said, ‘I salute you. 
Receive me as readily as I come to you, a man of dash and daring, one 
who would rather take hard blows on his body than hard cash in his 
hand, one who defies the death that others dread. Don’t think me a 
beggar or an outcast, or judge my worth from these rags. I was 
captain of a valiant company and I have laid waste all Macedonia; I 
am the famous bandit Haemus of Thrace, whose name is feared 
throughout the Empire. My father Theron was an equally renowned 
robber; I was nourished on human blood and brought up in the ranks 
of our band to be the heir and rival of my 

Page 96 

father’s prowess. But I lost every one of my brave comrades and all 
my riches in a matter of moments. In an evil hour I had attacked as 
he passed by an Imperial commissioner (he had been a two-hundred- 
thousand man but had been dismissed in disgrace) - but I had better 
make things clear by starting at the beginning. 

‘This man had held a number of offices at court, in which he had 
won distinction, and he was held in high regard by the Emperor 
himself. On false charges cunningly trumped up by certain 
individuals he was sent into exile, the victim of cruel Envy. 
However, his wife Plotina, a woman of altogether exceptional loyalty 
and chastity, who had given him ten children, rejecting in disdain the 
pleasures and luxuries of the city, went with him in his flight and 
shared his ruin. She cut her hair, dressed herself in men’s clothes, 
and stowed in her girdle her most valuable jewellery and some gold 
money; then moving undismayed among armed guards and drawn 
swords she shared all her husband’s dangers, watching over his life 
with sleepless vigilance and enduring countless hardships with the 
fortitude of a man. 

‘After undergoing many trials along the way and braving the terrors 
of the sea, they were making for Zacynthus, which had been 

assigned by the decree of destiny as their temporary residence. They 
had put in near Actium just when we, having come down from 
Macedonia, were operating in those parts, and had taken refuge from 
the sea in a little inn near where they had landed. Late that night we 
fell on the place and made a clean sweep of the contents, but it was 
only by the skin of our teeth that we escaped. The moment Plotina 
heard the first sounds of our entry, she rushed into the outer room 
and filled the whole place with cries of alarm, calling on the soldiers 
and servants by name and summoning the whole blessed 
neighbourhood to the rescue. It was only because of the general 
panic, each man skulking to save his own skin, that we were able to 
get away unscathed. 

‘But this most noble lady, for so I must call her, this paragon of 
loyalty, lost no time in using the influence her exemplary behaviour 
had won her: she successfully petitioned the Emperor’s divinity for 
an immediate pardon for her husband and condign punishment for 
his assailants. That was that: the Emperor willed that Haemus the 
robber’s company should cease to exist, and cease to exist it did. 
Such is the power of a great prince’s mere wish. Our entire band was 
hunted down, cut to pieces, and exterminated by detachments of 

Page 97 

soldiers; I alone just managed to escape from the very jaws of 


Orcus, which I did as follows. I put on a woman’s dress, brightly 
coloured and hanging in loose folds, covered my head with a gauze 
turban, and slipped on my feet a pair of those thin white shoes that 
women wear. So disguised as a member of the weaker sex and riding 
an ass loaded with barley I made my getaway through the enemy 
ranks. They allowed free passage to what they thought was a mere 
donkey-woman - and indeed at that time my complexion was still 
that of a boy and my cheeks were smooth and hairless. 

‘Since then I have been true to my father’s renown and my own 
prowess. Surrounded as I was by hostile swords, I felt somewhat 
nervous; but in solitary raids on farmhouses and villages under the 
cover of my disguise I have scraped together a little journey-money’ 
- and with that he opened his rags and poured out a couple of 
thousand gold pieces. ‘There,’ he said, ‘is my contribution - my 
dowry if you like; I freely offer it to your company, and along with it 
myself, if you will agree, as your trusty commander, one who will 
very soon transform this house of stone into a house of gold.’ 

Without a moment’s hesitation the robbers unanimously voted to 
confer the leadership on him, and produced a rather more elegant 
robe for him to put on in place of the rags which had turned out to 
be so rich. So transformed he embraced every man individually; then 
he took the seat of honour at the table and was formally installed 
with great feasting and carousing. In the course of conversation he 
heard about Charite’s escape, how I had carried her, and the horrible 
death they planned for us. He asked where she was and was taken to 
see her. At the sight of her loaded with chains he came back 
wrinkling his nose in disapproval. ‘It would be stupid and rash of 
me,’ he said, ‘to veto your decision, but I shall not be able to face the 
accusations of my conscience if I don’t tell you what I really think. 
First of all, please believe me when I say that it is for your interests 
that I am concerned; and after all, if you don’t like my proposition, 
you can always revert to your original plan. My own view is that 
robbers, at least those who know their business, should count 
nothing more important than their own profit, not even revenge, 
which has a habit of rebounding on its author. If you dispose of this 
girl inside the ass, you will have achieved nothing except to give vent 
to your resentment. What I would suggest is that we take her to some 
city or other and sell her there. A pretty young girl like that will fetch 

Page 98 

a good price. It so happens that I have a number of friends who are 
pimps, and one or other of them, I’ve no doubt, can well afford to 
pay a hefty sum for her, one in keeping with her high birth. She will 
then be consigned to a brothel (and she won’t be allowed to escape a 
second time), and you will have your revenge into the bargain, and a 
hugely satisfactory one, when she is serving her sentence there. That 
I honestly hold to be the most expedient course; but the decision and 
the conduct of your affairs must rest with you.’ 


In this manner did our Treasury Pleader, this admirable protector of 
both girl and ass, present our case. The others, however, debated for 
a long time, putting my heart to the torture by their protracted 
discussions; indeed I all but expired in my agony. Finally they agreed 
to the newcomer’s proposal, and at once released the girl from her 
fetters. As soon as she saw Haemus and heard what they were saying 
about pimps and brothels, she became elated and began laughing 
merrily. That, I felt, justified me in condemning the entire female sex, 
when I saw this girl who had pretended to be in love with her 
betrothed and to be pining for a chaste marriage, now suddenly 
delighted by the mention of a filthy sordid brothel. At that moment 
the whole race of women and their morals hung in the balance, with 
an ass holding the scales. 

However, the young man now went on: ‘Should we not,’ he asked, 
‘at once propitiate Mars the Comrade in Arms, before we set out to 
sell the girl and find recruits? But so far as I can see we haven’t any 
animals for sacrifice or even enough wine to drink, let alone a 
surplus. Choose ten men to go with me; they will be all I shall need to 
attack the nearest village and bring back a real Salian banquet for 
you.’ He then set out, while the rest of them built up a huge fire and 
made an altar to Mars from green turf. 


The foraging party soon returned carrying skins full of wine and 
driving before them a herd of animals. From these they chose a large 
he-goat, old and hairy, to sacrifice to Mars, Helper and Comrade. 
They then prepared a sumptuous supper. The new arrival spoke up 
again. ‘You must look to me,’ he said, ‘to give you a vigorous lead, 
not only in your expeditions and plunderings but also in your 
pleasures’; and he set to work energetically, attending to every detail 
with extraordinary efficiency. He swept the floor, laid the table, 
cooked, arranged the various dishes, served them dextrously, and 
above all plied every man with bumper after bumper until they were 

Page 99 

all awash. Meanwhile, on the pretext of fetching and carrying fresh 
supplies, he was constantly at the girl’s side, smilingly offering her 
filched titbits and sips of wine from his own cup. She for her part 
eagerly accepted these attentions, and when he several times offered 
to kiss her she kissed him back with ardour. This emphatically 
displeased me. ‘So, young lady,’ I said to myself, ‘you’ve forgotten 
your marriage and the lover whom you love, and you prefer this 
stranger, this bloodstained assassin, to that new husband, whoever he 
is, to whom your parents wed you? Doesn’t your conscience prick 
you, or are you happy to trample true love under foot and play the 
whore here among spears and swords? Suppose the other robbers 
notice what’s happening? It’ll be back again to death by donkey for 
you, and you’ll take me to perdition along with you. It’s somebody 
else’s hide you’re gambling with.’ 


However, while I was silently rehearsing these slanderous charges 
in high indignation, I became aware from some words that passed 
between them - ambiguous but clear enough to an intelligent ass - 
that this was not in fact Haemus the notorious robber but her 
husband Tlepolemus. For as they went on talking, ignoring me as if I 
were really dead, he raised his voice a little. ‘Cheer up, sweetest 
Charite,’ he said. ‘Very soon these enemies will be your prisoners’, 
and drunk as they already were and full to overflowing, he reapplied 
himself even more insistently to thrusting wine on them, now serving 
it neat and slightly mulled. He himself didn’t touch a drop. I really 
couldn’t help suspecting that he was adding some soporific drug to 
their cups, for finally the whole lot of them, every man jack, lay 
overcome with wine as if dead. Then it was the easiest thing in the 
world for him to tie them all up and completely immobilize them; 
after which he mounted the girl on my back and set off for home. 


On our arrival the whole city turned out to see this longed-for sight. 
There were parents, relatives, dependants, children, servants, all with 
happiness in their faces and joy in their hearts. There was to be seen 
a crowd of both sexes and all ages escorting this novel and never-to- 
be-forgotten spectacle, a virgin riding in triumph on an ass. I myself 
played my part manfully in the rejoicing, and not to seem out of 
place or out of harmony with the proceedings, I pricked up my ears, 
inflated my nostrils, and brayed vigorously - or indeed a better word 
would be thunderously. Charite was taken straight to her room, 
where her parents made much of her, while Tlepolemus took me and 
a large number of other pack-animals and townspeople back again at 

Page 100 

a great pace. I was by no means unwilling to go, for my usual 
curiosity was whetted by my desire to see the robbers taken prisoner. 
We found them still immobilized, more by the wine than by their 
bonds. All their plunder was unearthed and carried outside; and the 
gold and silver and the rest of the loot was loaded on to us. Some of 
the robbers, tied up as they were, they dragged to the edge of a 
nearby ravine and threw over; the others they dispatched with their 
own swords and left them where they lay. 

Delighted with our vengeance we returned joyfully to the city. The 
treasure was consigned to public safekeeping, and Tlepolemus 


was restored to the legitimate possession of his bride. The new wife 
at once proclaimed me her saviour and took generous care of me; on 
her wedding day she ordered my manger to be filled to overflowing 
with barley, and had enough hay served out to me to feed a Bactrian 
camel. You can imagine how horribly I cursed Photis for having 
turned me into an ass and not a dog, when I saw the whole canine 
population gorged and bloated with the leavings and filched morsels 
of that lavish marriage-feast. The unique night and her first 
experience of love came and went, and the new bride never stopped 
talking to her parents and husband of her thankfulness to me, until 
they promised to invest me with supreme honours. Finally a group 
of solid citizens was convened to decide on the most suitable way of 
rewarding me. One of them suggested that I should be kept in the 
house to lead a life of leisure, fed richly on choice barley and beans 
and vetch. However, another was concerned for my liberty, and his 
opinion carried the day: he proposed that I should be allowed to run 
loose in the fields to take my pleasure with the horses, so that I could 
mount the mares and from these superior matings produce many 
mules for my masters to rear. 


Accordingly the head stableman was summoned, and after a long 
recommendation I was handed over to him to be taken off. I was 
indeed happy and carefree as I trotted ahead of him: I could, I 
thought, now say goodbye to carrying baggage and other burdens, and 
having gained my freedom I should be sure when spring came and 
the fields were in bloom to find roses somehow or other. And then 
another thought struck me: if all these thanks and honours had been 
bestowed on me when I was an ass, how much more lavishly should I 
be feted and rewarded when I regained my human shape! However, 
once that herdsman had got me well away from the city, there were 

Page 101 

no comforts awaiting me; I wasn’t even set free. His wife, an odious 
grasping creature, yoked me to a rotary mill, and by repeatedly 
beating me with a leafy branch she proceeded to get bread for herself 
and her family at the expense of my hide. Moreover, she was not 
satisfied with over tasking me like this merely for her own needs; she 
hired out my circumambulations to the neighbours to grind their 
grain for them as well. To make matters worse, I wasn’t allowed even 
the usual ration of food for these hard labours. My barley, crushed 
and ground by the selfsame mill that I was turning, she sold to the 
farmers round about; I, for a whole day of hard work fastened to that 
machine, was not fed until the evening, and then what she served out 
to me was just the husks, unsifted and full of dirt and grit. 


Ground down as I was by these troubles, cruel Fortune then 
delivered me over to fresh torments - to enable me, I suppose, to 
boast of glory earned for deeds of valour at home and abroad. Rather 
late in the day the worthy herdsman finally recollected his masters’ 
orders and turned me loose among the horses. Free at last, ass that I 
was, I rejoiced and kicked up my heels; and parading around with 
dainty steps I began to choose out the mares that I thought would 
make the best concubines. However, these agreeable prospects ended 
in disaster. It was the breeding season, and the stallions had for weeks 
been thoroughly fattened up and fed to bursting. Formidable at the 
best of times and stronger than any ass, they regarded me in the light 
of a threat, and to prevent what they saw as an adulterous 
debasement of the breed, and setting the divine law of hospitality at 
naught, they fell on me in a fury of hatred. One reared his great chest 
in the air, and with his head and crest towering above me battered 
me with his front hooves; another turned his rump on me, bulging 
with muscles, and attacked me with his heels; a third, whinnying 
spitefully, threatened me with ears laid back, and baring his gleaming 
teeth like so many hatchets nipped me all over. It was just like the 
story I had once read of the king of Thrace who consigned 
unfortunate strangers to his wild horses to rend and devour; that 
powerful tyrant was so sparing of his barley that he assuaged the 
hunger of his voracious stud by largesse of human flesh. 


Finding myself similarly attacked and savaged by all these horses, I 
began hankering for my old round in the mill. However, Fortune’s 
appetite for tormenting me was unappeased, and she now visited me 
with a fresh plague. I was told off to carry wood down from the 
mountain, and the boy who was put in charge of me was without 

Page 102 

question the most objectionable specimen of boyhood there ever was. 
Not only did I exhaust myself climbing the steep slopes of the 
mountain and wear out my hooves traversing its sharp -edged rocks; I 
was so incessantly thrashed by blow after blow from his stick that 
the pain of the cuts penetrated the marrow of my bones. By 
perpetually aiming his blows at one particular place on my right 
flank he split the skin and opened up a gaping sore - a pit, a crevasse; 
and still went on beating the wound until it ran with blood. He piled 
such a weight of faggots on my back that you’d have thought it a load 
for an elephant rather than an ass. And whenever the load became 
unbalanced and slipped sideways, instead of relieving me by 
removing some faggots from the heavier side and so taking off some 
of the pressure, as he should have done, or at least evening up the 
load by transferring them to the other side, his remedy for the 
imbalance was to pile stones on top. As if these tribulations were 


not enough, the size of my load still did not satisfy him; huge though 
it was, when we had to cross the stream which ran alongside the 
road, to save his boots from a wetting he would jump up and perch 
on my back - a trivial addition, I suppose he thought, to my 
enormous burden. The river bank was muddy and slippery, and from 
time to time I would overbalance under my load and go down in the 
mire. A good driver would have lent a hand, would have held me up 
by the bridle or hauled me up by the tail, or at least taken off some of 
my vast load until I could get to my feet again. Not he: so far from 
offering to help me in my exhaustion, he would beat every inch of 
me with his great stick, starting at my head and not forgetting my 
ears, until his blows acted as a kind of medical treatment to get me up 

Yet another torture did he devise for me. He made up a bunch of 
thorns with formidably sharp and poisonous prickles and fastened it 
to my tail to hang there and torment me, so that as I walked it would 
swing about and hurt me cruelly with its deadly spikes. So 


either way I was in trouble. If I put on speed to escape his savage 
blows, the thorns pricked me harder than ever; and if I slowed down 
for a moment to ease the pain, I was thrashed into a gallop once 
more. This detestable boy seemed to have no other object in life but 
to finish me off one way or another, and indeed he more than once 
threatened and swore to do just that. Then something happened to 
goad his abominable malice to fresh lengths. One day he was 

Page 103 

behaving so outrageously that my patience gave way and I let fly at 
him with a vigorous kick. This was what he then planned to do to 
me. He loaded me with a large bundle of tow which he roped tightly 
to my back, and then drove me on to the road. He then helped 
himself to a burning coal from the first farm he came to and pushed 
it into the middle of my load. In a moment the loose mass had ignited 
and burst into flame, enveloping me in its lethal heat with no 
apparent hope of escaping from the fatal menace or of saving my 


life; a fire like that allows no delay or time to think things over. In 
this calamity Fortune for once smiled on me; no doubt she was saving 
me for future dangers, but now at least she delivered me from instant 
and certain death. Catching sight of a muddy pool of water from 
yesterday’s rain by the roadside, without stopping to think I plunged 
into it head over ears. Then, when the flames were finally 
extinguished, I emerged, relieved of my load and delivered from 
destruction. But that dreadful boy had the effrontery to blame his vile 
deed on me, telling all his fellow herdsmen that I had stumbled on 
purpose when passing the neighbour’s stove and had deliberately set 
myself on fire, adding with a laugh, ‘So how long are we going to go 
on wasting fodder on this incendiary ass?’ 

Only a few days later he played an even worse trick on me. Having 
sold the wood I was carrying at a nearby cottage he was leading me 
back unloaded when he started to proclaim that he could no longer 
cope with my wicked ways and that he had had enough of such a 
thankless task. This was the style of the complaint that he had 

concocted: ‘Look at this ass - lazy, idle, too asinine to be true. On top 
of all the other shocking things he’s done, now he’s getting me into 
fresh trouble and danger. Every time he sees a passer-by, whether it’s 
a pretty woman, a young girl, or a handsome boy, in a second he’s 
sent his load flying, and often his saddle as well, and makes a mad 
rush at them - a lover like this in search of a human mate! Slavering 
with desire, he hurls them to the ground as he attempts to indulge 
his unlawful pleasures and unspeakable lusts, urging them to bestial 
unions while Venus looks away in horror. He even distorts his 
shameless mouth into a parody of a kiss as he butts and bites his 
victims. These goings-on are likely to involve us in serious lawsuits 
and quarrels, and probably criminal prosecutions as well. Only just 
now, catching sight of a respectable young woman, he threw off his 
load of wood and scattered it all over the place, went for her in a 

Page 104 

frenzy and had her down in the mud, did our merry philanderer, and 
then and there in full view of everybody did his level best to mount 
her. It was only because some passers-by were alarmed by her 
screams and rushed to the rescue that she was freed and pulled out 
from right under his hooves; otherwise the unhappy woman would 
have been trampled and torn apart - an agonizing end for her and the 
prospect of the death penalty as her legacy to us.’ 


These lies he interspersed with all sorts of other stories, all the 
more galling to me because I had to stay modestly silent. They 
aroused in the herdsmen a violent determination to do for me. ‘Let’s 
make a sacrifice of this public husband,’ said one, ‘this adulterer to 
the community; that’s what his monstrous marriages deserve. Come 
on, young fellow,’ he added, ‘cut his throat here and now, throw his 
guts to the dogs, and keep the meat for the workforce’s dinner. We’ll 
sprinkle his skin with ash and dry it to take back to our masters; we 
can easily pretend that he was killed by a wolf.’ 

Without more ado my delinquent accuser constituted himself 
executioner of the herdsmen’s sentence, and gleefully mocking my 
misfortunes and still resenting my kick - how I regretted that it 


hadn’t been more effective! - started to whet a sword. But one of the 
rustics in the crowd intervened. ‘It would be a shame,’ he said, ‘to kill 
such a fine ass and lose his labour and valuable services by passing 
this sentence on his amatory excesses. If we castrate him, that will 
put paid to his lovemaking for good and relieve you of all fear of 
danger, and he’ll be much the stouter and stronger for it. I’ve known 
not merely many idle asses but lots of very unruly horses with an 
excessive sexual drive which made them wild and unmanageable, but 
after this operation they at once became tame and docile, quite 
suitable as pack-animals and submissive to any other kind of work. 
So, unless you strongly disagree, give me a day or two - I’ve got to be 
at the next market meanwhile - to fetch the instruments I need for 
the operation from home and come straight back to you; then I’ll 
whip this nasty brute of a lover’s thighs open and take out his 
manhood, and you’ll find him as meek and mild as an old bell- 


By this decision I was snatched from the hands of Orcus, but only to 
be reserved for a fate almost worse. I began to lament and mourn 

Page 105 

myself as dead - for that was what I should be without my latter end. 
So I started to look round for ways of destroying myself, by a hunger- 
strike or jumping off a cliff - I’d still be dead, but at least I’d be dead 
in one piece. I was still undecided about my choice of ending when 
the next morning that assassin of a boy once more led me up the 
mountain by the usual route. He tied me to a branch that hung down 
from a huge ilex, while he climbed a little way up above the path 
with a hatchet to cut the wood he had to fetch. At that moment there 
emerged from a nearby cave the huge towering head of a deadly she- 
bear. The instant I saw her I panicked; terrified by this sudden 
apparition I reared back with the whole weight of my body on my 
hind legs and my head high in the air, snapped my tether, and took 
off at top speed. Headlong and hell for leather downhill I went, 
hurling myself bodily through the air with my feet hardly touching 
the earth, until I reached the level ground below; all I wanted was to 
escape that monster of a bear and that even worse monster of a boy. 


At this point a passer-by, seeing me straying ownerless, grabbed 
hold of me, jumped on my back, and beating me with the stick he 
carried rode off with me along an unfamiliar side road. I was more 
than willing to cooperate in any course that would save me from the 
butchery of my virility; and the blows did not much bother me, used 
as I was to regular beatings. However, Fortune, determined as ever to 
persecute me, in her lamentable readiness to thwart my lucky escape 
now laid a fresh trap for me. My herdsmen had been scouring the 
countryside in search of a lost heifer, and now they happened to run 
into us and at once recognized me and seized my bridle in an attempt 
to take possession of me. My rider, however, boldly and stoutly 
resisted them, calling men and gods to witness and shouting: ‘What’s 
the meaning of this? Why this violence? Why are you attacking me?’ 
‘Oh,’ said they, ‘so we’re treating you uncivilly, when you’ve stolen 
our ass and are making off with him? It would be more to the point 
to confess where you’ve hidden the boy who was in charge of him - 
obviously you’ve murdered him.’ And with that they pulled him to 
the ground and beat and thumped him with fists and feet, while he 
swore that he’d seen no driver; he’d merely come across an ass that 
was wandering about loose and caught it for the sake of the reward, 
fully intending to restore it to the owner. ‘If only the ass himself,’ he 
said, ‘(and I wish I’d never set eyes on him) could speak and bear 
witness to my innocence: you’d be sorry for mistreating me like this.’ 

These protestations got him nowhere. Those vexatious herdsmen 
took him into custody and brought him to the wooded mountainside 

Page 106 


which was the boy’s usual beat. He was nowhere to be seen, only 
fragments of a body, torn limb from limb and scattered all over the 
hillside. I knew perfectly well that it was the teeth of that she-bear 
that had done this, and I should certainly have told them what I knew 
had I had the power of speech. As it was, all I could do was silently to 
congratulate myself on my belated revenge. The boy’s body was in 
pieces all over the place, but in the end with some difficulty they 
found it all and reassembled it, and then buried it on the spot. My 
Bellerophon they declared clearly guilty of theft and bloody murder, 
tied him up, and took him to their village for the night, meaning, 
they said, to bring him before the magistrates early next day to pay 
the penalty for his crime. Meanwhile the boy’s parents were 
mourning him with tears and lamentations, when the farmer turned 
up true to his promise and proposed to operate on me. ‘Well,’ said 
one of the herdsmen, ‘our loss today was nothing to do with him; but 
tomorrow we can if we feel like it relieve this pestilent ass not just of 
his genitals but of his head. You won’t lack for helpers.’ 


So it happened that my doom was postponed to the morning, and I 
thanked my friend for granting me at any rate one day’s stay of 
execution by his death. However, I wasn’t left in peace to 
congratulate myself for very long; the boy’s mother burst into my 
stable, lamenting her son’s untimely death with floods of tears. 
Dressed in black, ash on her head, tearing her grey hair with both 
hands, she wailed and protested endlessly, violently thumping and 
battering her breast. ‘Look at him,’ she screamed, ‘lying there in his 
stall without a care in the world, indulging his gluttony and stuffing 
his insatiable bottomless belly - eat, eat, eat, with no pity for me in 
my affliction, no thought of his dead master’s horrible fate. Yes, he 
scorns and despises my feeble old age and thinks he’ll get away with 
this monstrous crime and come off scot free. Of course he takes it for 
granted that he’s not guilty; your really desperate villains always defy 
conscience and expect to get away with it. In God’s name, you 
miserable animal, if you could speak for a moment or two, how 
could you persuade even a complete idiot that you weren’t to blame 
for this atrocity? You could have defended the poor child with your 
hooves, you could have protected him with your teeth. Often and 
often you’d lashed out at him with your heels - no trouble; why 
weren’t you as eager to rescue him from death? You could at least 
have carried him off on your back and snatched him from the bloody 
clutches of that savage robber. How could you make off alone and 

Page 107 

desert and leave in the lurch your fellow slave, your master, your 
comrade, your good shepherd? Don’t you know that anybody who 
refuses to help those in danger of death is guilty of antisocial 
behaviour and is liable to punishment on that score? But you aren’t 
going to exult over my misfortunes much longer, murderer. I’ll make 
you realize that nature lends strength to misery and grief.’ 


So saying, she pulled off her breastband and tied up my feet as 
tightly as she could with it, so that I should have no way of 
retaliating; then she seized the pole which was used to hold the 
stable door shut, and only stopped beating me with it when her 
strength gave out and the pole fell from her hands under its own 
weight. Then, complaining that her arms had tired so quickly, she 
rushed to the fire and took out a glowing brand, which she thrust 
right into my groin; whereat I resorted to the only defence that was 
left to me and ejected a stream of liquid filth which befouled her face 
and eyes. So, by blindness and stench, my doom was finally averted; 
otherwise, like another Meleager, an ass would have perished by the 
firebrand of an insane Althaea. 

Page 108 


Tragic deaths of Charite and Tlepolemus - their 
slaves decamp in panic with the animals - 
misadventures on the way - Lucius sold to the priests 
of Atargatis - their scandalous activities - another 
death sentence 

1 That night at cockcrow a young man arrived from the city who 
looked to me like a slave of Charite’s, the girl who had suffered along 
with me at the hands of the robbers. He brought strange and dreadful 
news: she was dead and her whole house destroyed. He told his tale 
sitting by the fire with all his fellow slaves clustered around him: 
‘Grooms, shepherds, cowherds: our mistress Charite is no more; the 
poor child has perished by the cruellest of fates, but when she went 
down to the realm of ghosts it was not alone. But so that you may 
know the whole story, let me tell you everything that happened from 
the beginning; it deserves to be written down and shaped into a 
formal narrative by some scholar on whom Fortune has conferred the 
gift of writing. 

‘There lived in the city next to ours a young man of very 
distinguished family, a prominent figure on that account and very 
wealthy, but a confirmed debauchee, gourmandizing, whoring and 
drinking all day. This life-style had led him into bad company, and he 
was in league with gangs of robbers, and his hands were stained with 
human blood. Thrasyllus was his name, and he lived 


up to his reputation. When Charite came of marriageable age, he was 
one of her principal suitors, and he put everything he knew into his 
wooing. However, though he outranked all his noble competitors and 
tried to win over her parents by rich gifts, they objected to his 
character, and he had to suffer the humiliation of being turned down. 
And even after my masters’ daughter had been wedded to the 
excellent Tlepolemus, Thrasyllus, still obviously nursing the love that 
had been brought so low and brooding resentfully on the marriage 
that had been denied him, never ceased to watch for the chance of a 
bloody revenge. Finally he hit on a convenient opportunity of being 
on the spot, and made his preparations for the crime that he had 
been planning for so long. On the day when Charite had been rescued 
from the deadly swords of the robbers by her astute and valiant 
husband, he drew attention to himself by his exuberant behaviour as 
he mingled with the crowd who had come to offer their 

Page 109 

congratulations, expressing his delight at seeing the newly-married 
couple safely rescued, and at the prospect of children to come. In 
honour of his distinguished family, he was received into our house 
as one of the principal guests and treacherously masqueraded as a 
faithful friend while all the time dissembling his wicked purpose. He 
constantly frequented their society and was often invited to dine and 
drink with the family; so he had become by degrees ever more dear 
to them and had gradually and insensibly plunged into a deep abyss of 
desire. What else was to be expected? The first warmth of cruel Love, 
while his flame is still small, is delightful; but when it is fed by habit 
it flares up and consumes us in its uncontrollable blaze. 

‘Thrasyllus was for a long time perplexed. He could discover no 
opportunity for a secret meeting and saw that the possible openings 
for an adulterous intrigue were being increasingly blocked off: the 
couple’s new and growing affection constituted a bond that had 
become unbreakable, and even if, which was inconceivable, the girl 
were willing, she was too closely guarded for any attempt at 
seduction to be practicable. Nevertheless it was this impossible goal 
to which his destructive passion drove him on, as if it were possible. 
What at first he had thought difficult, now, as his love daily grew in 
strength, seemed easy to accomplish. See, all of you, mark, learn, and 
inwardly digest, the lengths to which the frenzy of desire can drive a 

‘A day came when Tlepolemus took Thrasyllus with him to hunt 
wild beasts, if roe deer may be so described; for Charite would not let 
her husband go after anything with teeth or horns. They had come to 
a thickly wooded hill where the dense foliage hid the quarry from 
their sight, and sent in the hounds, specially bred for scenting, to 
flush the deer from where they lay couched. At once, faithful to their 
careful training, the dogs divided up and covered all the approaches; 
at first there was only the odd whimper, then on a sudden signal they 
gave tongue and filled the wood with their wild and discordant 
barking. But it was not a roe deer or a panic-stricken fallow deer or a 
hind, meekest of all animals, that started up, but a wild boar, a 
fearsome animal - nothing like it had ever been seen before. Its 
muscles bulged under its tough hide, its coat was thick and rough, 
the bristles stood erect along its hairy spine; it foamed at the mouth 
as it loudly whetted its tusks, its eyes glared blazing menace, and the 
savage onrush of its ravening jaws was like a thunderbolt. Such of the 
more daring hounds as closed with it, it mangled and killed with 

Page 110 

sideways thrusts of its tusks, then it trampled down the nets which 
had slowed its first charge, and took off. 

‘The rest of us were all panic-stricken, being used to hunting only 
harmless animals and having no means of offence or defence, and hid 
ourselves in the undergrowth or behind the trees for protection. 
Thrasyllus, however, saw this as an opportunity to carry out his 
treacherous plan, and appealed artfully to Tlepolemus: “Why are we 
standing here in amazement and groundless panic like these 
grovelling slaves or timorous women? Are we going to let this choice 
prize slip from our grasp? Quick! Let’s mount and go after him! 
Here, you take a boar-spear and I’ll take a lance.” The next moment 
they had leapt on to their horses and were off in hot pursuit. The 
boar, following its fighting instincts, turned to bay, hot with savage 
rage, and stood eyeing them, undecided which to charge and gore 
first. Tlepolemus took the lead and hurled his spear at the beast’s 
back. Thrasyllus ignored the boar and with a thrust from his lance 
hamstrung Tlepolemus’ horse. Unable to help itself, it collapsed and 
lay wallowing in its blood, throwing its master to the ground. In a 
moment the maddened boar was on him as he lay, repeatedly 
savaging first his clothes, then Tlepolemus himself as he tried to rise. 
So far from his good friend’s feeling any remorse for his wicked 
exploit, his cruelty was not appeased by the sight of his victim in 
this mortal danger. That by no means satisfied him; as Tlepolemus, in 
his desperation at the boar’s attacks, was trying unavailingly to 
protect his lacerated legs and calling piteously for help, Thrasyllus 
speared him in the right thigh, reckoning confidently that a spear- 
thrust would be indistinguishable from the wounds inflicted by the 
boar. Then he likewise adroitly dispatched the boar itself. 

‘So young Tlepolemus was dead, and we all came out of hiding. 
Sadly his household gathered at the spot; Thrasyllus, though 
delighted to have achieved his purpose and to see his enemy laid 
low, dissembled his joy, put on a mournful expression, and feigned 
grief. Lovingly embracing the corpse that was of his own making, 
with scrupulous hypocrisy he performed all the observances of 
mourning - only the tears would not come. So he produced an 
imitation of our real grief, fastening the blame for his own crime on 
the boar. 

‘The evil deed was scarcely done before Fame spread the report of it 
abroad. It found its way first to the house of Tlepolemus, where it 

Page 111 

fell on the ears of his ill-starred bride like a thunderbolt: beside 
herself at the news, the worst she was ever to hear, she launched out 
madly, like a Bacchante, on a wild course through the crowded city 
streets and the countryside around, proclaiming her husband’s fate 
with frenzied shrieks. Groups of mourning citizens assembled, and all 
who met her followed her, sharing her grief; the city was emptied of 
its people, so eager were they to see. And now her husband’s corpse 
appeared; fainting she threw herself on it and very nearly gave up to 
him then and there the life she had vowed to him. However, she was 
with much ado torn away by her attendants and reluctantly stayed 
alive, while the body was carried in solemn procession and escorted 
to its resting-place by the entire population. 

‘Thrasyllus meanwhile threw off all restraint. He cried and 
lamented, and shed the tears - no doubt of joy - that he had not been 
able to command in his first demonstration of grief. Truth herself 
might have been hoodwinked by the profusion of his endearments: 
this was the friend he had grown up with, his comrade - in his 
mourning invocations he even added the name of brother. He was 
constantly with Charite, restraining her from beating her breast, 
calming her grief, quieting her lamentations, blunting the pangs of 
bereavement with soothing words, and consoling her by citing a 
string of examples to show that nobody is immune from misfortune. 
But all these kindnesses and this pretended friendship were merely an 
excuse to caress the girl, and his perverse attempts to please her only 
fed his odious love. However, directly the funeral rites had been 
performed, Charite was at once eager to join her husband in the 
world below, and tried every way she knew, especially the gentle and 
peaceful one which requires no weapons but resembles tranquil 
sleep. So the poor girl starved and neglected herself, hiding away in 
darkness and squalor and bidding farewell to the light of day. But 
Thrasyllus, partly by his own continued persistence, and partly 
working through other friends and relatives, not least her parents, 
forced her in the end, when she was deathly pale, filthy, and on the 
verge of collapse, to revive herself with a bath and food. Being the 
dutiful daughter that she was, she submitted, though unwillingly, to 
the demands of filial piety, and went about the business of life as 
they bade her, looking not exactly cheerful but somewhat less 
disturbed. Deep down inside, however, in the inmost core of her 
being, she was eating her heart out with grief and sorrow. All her 
days and nights were passed in mourning her loss; she had images of 
the dead man made as the god Liber, which she worshipped with 
divine honours, giving herself wholly over to this service - a 

Page 112 

consolation that was itself a torment. 

‘But Thrasyllus, always hasty and as rash as his name, could not 
wait for her to weep away her grief, for her distraction and frenzy to 
subside, and for her sorrow to exhaust itself by its very excess. While 
she was still lamenting her husband, still rending her clothes, still 
tearing her hair, he had the hardihood to propose marriage to her, 
and the imprudence to reveal the inmost secrets of his heart and his 
unspeakable treachery. Charite recoiled in loathing from these 
hideous disclosures; like one struck by a thunderclap or a meteor or 
Jupiter’s lightning she collapsed bodily in a dead faint. After a short 
while she gradually came to, crying out repeatedly like a wounded 
animal; and now that she saw through the wicked Thrasyllus’ plot, 
she put off her eager suitor to give herself time to perfect a plan. 
Meanwhile the ghost of the foully murdered Tlepolemus, his face 
bloodstained, pale and disfigured, appeared to his wife as she lay 
chastely asleep. “Wife,” he said, “I call you by the name which only I 
have a right to use, if any memory of me still remains in your heart. 
But if my untimely death has caused you to forget the ties of our 
love, marry whom you will and be happier than I could make you; 
only do not accept Thrasyllus’ impious hand. Have nothing to do 
with him, shun his bed and board. Fly from the bloodstained hand of 
my assassin; do not enter into marriage with a murderer. The wounds 
from which you washed the blood with your tears are not those of 
the boar’s tusks; it was Thrasyllus’ spear that took me from you” - 
and he told her the rest, revealing the whole enactment of the crime. 

‘For a time Charite slept on, with her face pressed into the pillow 
and the tears streaming down her face, just as when she had first 
dropped off in her grief. Then, starting up in torment from her 
unrestful rest, she broke into fresh lamentations and prolonged 
wailing, tearing her nightdress and beating her shapely arms with 
savage blows. She told nobody of her dream but kept the information 
of the crime entirely to herself, resolving secretly to punish the 
wicked murderer and to put an end to her own life of suffering. Now 
once more the odious Thrasyllus, still recklessly pursuing his 
pleasure, appeared to thrust his proposal of marriage on her deaf 
ears. This time she rebuffed his approach gently, responding to his 
pressing endearments and humble solicitations with a remarkably 
clever piece of acting. “Until now,” she said, “the fair face of your 
brother and my dearest husband has lingered before my eyes; I still 
sense the balmy fragrance of his heavenly body, and beautiful 

Page 113 

Tlepolemus still lives in my heart. Your most considerate course, 
therefore, will be to grant an unhappy woman the period of 
mourning that is necessary and customary, and to wait until a year is 
up. That will safeguard my honour and also your own interests and 
safety; by marrying too soon we might stir up my husband’s vengeful 
ghost to destroy you in his just resentment.” 


‘So far from being sobered down by her words or comforted by this 
temporizing promise, Thrasyllus persisted in pressing his shameless 
blandishments on her, going on and on until finally Charite pretended 
to yield. “But one thing, Thrasyllus,” she said, “I must earnestly ask, 
and you cannot refuse me: for the time being, until the rest of the 
year has passed, our lovers’ meetings must be a secret known only to 
ourselves and to nobody else in our families.” Thrasyllus, 
outmanoeuvred, assented to her crafty proposal, willingly agreeing to 
keep their lovemaking secret. Forgetting everything else in his single- 
minded eagerness to possess her, he could not wait for night and the 
cover of darkness. “Now listen,” said Charite. “Cover yourself 
completely in your cloak and bring nobody with you. Come to my 
door at nightfall without making a sound, and whistle just once, then 
wait for my nurse - you know her - who will be waiting just inside 
the door for you to arrive. She will open up and let you in, then she 
will bring you to my room, and there will be no lamp to share our 


‘Thrasyllus was pleased with the arrangements for his fatal wedding. 
He suspected nothing, but on edge with anticipation complained only 
that the day was so long and evening so slow in coming. When the 
sun finally gave place to night, he appeared dressed in accordance 
with Charite’s instructions, and entrapped by the nurse’s watchful 
craft entered the bedroom in eager hope. Then, following her 
mistress’s orders, the old woman slyly produced wine cups and ajar 
of wine mixed with a narcotic drug. Cajoled by her he thirstily drank 
off cup after cup, suspecting nothing, while she explained that her 
mistress was delayed by having to sit up with her father, who was ill. 
So it was easy for her to lay him to rest; then, as he lay sprawled 
there exposed to whatever anyone might do to him, she summoned 
Charite, who flew at the murderer, raging with manlike 


spirit and deadly intent. Standing over him, “Look at you,” she said, 
“there you lie - my husband’s loyal comrade, the noble hunter, my 

Page 114 

dear betrothed. This is the hand that shed my blood, this the breast 
which contrived those treacherous schemes for my ruin, these the 
eyes in which I have found an unholy favour - eyes that already 
anticipate the coming punishment as they begin to experience the 
darkness that awaits them. Sleep well! Sweet dreams! It is not the 
sword, not cold steel, that I shall take to you; perish the thought that 
in the manner of your death you should be my husband’s equal. You 
will live, but your eyes will die, and only asleep shall you see. I shall 
have seen to it that your enemy’s death seems more fortunate to you 
than your life. This is your fate: you will never again see the light, 
you will need an attendant to lead you, you will not have Charite, no 
happy marriage will be yours. You will neither rest in the peace of 
death nor enjoy the pleasures of life, but you will be a ghost 
wandering uncertainly between hell and heaven. You will forever 
search in vain for the hand that put out your eyes, and your worst 
misfortune of all will be that you will never know whom to blame. 
With your eyes’ blood I shall pour a libation at the tomb of my 
Tlepolemus, and your sight shall be an offering to appease his sainted 
shade. But why this delay? Why grant you a respite from the torment 
that you deserve, while you perhaps are dreaming of my fatal 
embraces? Quit now the darkness of sleep and awaken to another 
darkness, that of your punishment. Raise your empty eyes, know 
your doom, understand your calamity, reckon up your sufferings. 
This is how you have found favour with a chaste woman, this is how 
the marriage-torches have lighted your bridal chamber. Your matrons 
of honour shall be the avenging Furies, and blindness your best man, 
and the prick of conscience will haunt you to eternity.” 


‘So she prophesied; then, taking a hairpin from her head, she 
plunged it deep into both eyes, leaving him totally blinded. While this 
as yet uncomprehended pain was shaking him out of his drunken 
sleep, she seized the naked sword that Tlepolemus had always worn 
and rushed off through the city, setting her frenzied course straight 
for her husband’s tomb, obviously intent on some dreadful deed. We, 
indeed the whole population, all left our houses and followed her as 
fast as we could, urging each other to wrest the sword from her 
maddened grasp. But Charite stood by Tlepolemus’ coffin and kept us 
all off with her gleaming blade. Then, seeing us all weeping profusely 
and lamenting, “No tears!” she cried. “They have no place here. No 
grieving! Grief has nothing to do with what I have accomplished. I 
have taken vengeance on my husband’s bloodstained assassin, I have 
punished the murdering ruffian who destroyed my marriage. Now it 
is time for me to seek with this 

Page 115 


sword the way down to my Tlepolemus.” And then, having related 
everything that her husband had told her in her dream and the ruse 
with which she had ensnared Thrasyllus, she ran herself through 
under the right breast and collapsed; lying in a pool of her own blood 
she muttered some incoherent words and breathed out her manly 
spirit. Her attendants quickly washed the unhappy Charite’s body 
with great care and restored her to her husband to lie with him in the 
same tomb as his wife for ever. Thrasyllus, when he had heard 
everything that had happened, thinking immediate extinction an 
inadequate punishment and knowing that even death by the noose 
could not match the heinousness of his crime, went of his own 
accord to the tomb. Crying repeatedly “You angry ghosts, here is a 
willing victim for you”, he shut the doors tightly behind him, 
resolved to put an end by starvation to a life on which he himself had 
passed sentence of execution.’ 


That was his story, told with many deep sighs and tears. His rustic 
audience were profoundly moved by it, and in their heartfelt grief at 
their masters’ domestic calamities and their fear of what a change of 
ownership might bring about, they decided to decamp. The head 
stableman, he to whose care I had been consigned with such pressing 
recommendations, loaded on to me and the other pack-animals 
everything of value that he had stored in his house, and left his home 
taking it all with him. We were carrying children, women, fowls, 
cage-birds, kids, puppies - anything that might have slowed down 
our flight because it was weak on its own feet was conveyed on ours. 
The weight of my load, huge as it was, did not trouble me: I was too 
glad to get away from that awful fellow who was proposing to 
castrate me. 

After negotiating a steep pass over a wooded mountainside and 
traversing a wide and remote plain, we came as evening was closing 
in on us to a large and prosperous village. The inhabitants tried to 
discourage us from going on that night or indeed the next day, telling 
us that the whole countryside around was infested by great packs of 
wolves, beasts of monstrous size and savage ferocity that were 
accustomed to plundering at their pleasure. It had got to the point 
where, just like bandits, they lay in ambush at the roadside and set on 
travellers; mad with ravening hunger they actually took the 
neighbouring farmhouses by storm, and human beings now found 
themselves threatened with the same fate as their defenceless flocks. 
Why, all along the road we should have to take there were lying half- 

Page 116 

eaten human bodies and whitening bones denuded of their flesh. 
This, they said, should be a warning to us. We should never relax our 
guard and take particular care not to travel until it was broad day and 
the sun was well up and shining brightly. In that way we should 
avoid their concealed ambushes, since the aggressive instincts of 
these fearsome beasts were blunted by daylight. Also we should not 
straggle on the march but move in a compact phalanx. With these 
precautions we ought to be able to negotiate the hazards safely. 


However, our absconding leaders, damn them, were in too much of 
a blind hurry and too fearful of possible pursuit to heed these 
salutary warnings. Not even waiting for daylight they loaded us up 
and drove us on our way while it was still dark. I got as nearly as I 
could into the middle of the crowd, since by unobtrusively 
ensconcing myself in among the mass of animals I reckoned I would 
protect my behind from the attacks of the wolves. Everybody was 
amazed to see the pace I set, outstripping even the horses. That, 
however, was a symptom of fear rather than zeal: I thought to myself 
that it was fear that made a flier out of the great Pegasus and that it 
made sense for him to be represented with wings, seeing that it was 
in terror of the jaws of the fire-breathing Chimaera that he went 
bounding aloft to heaven itself. Meanwhile the herdsmen who were 
leading us had armed themselves in warlike fashion. One carried a 
lance, one a hunting-spear, another a javelin; some had clubs, some 
stones, of which there was a plentiful supply along our rocky route, 
and some brandished sharpened stakes; most relied on flaming 
torches to keep off the wolves. We only needed a trumpeter to 
complete the military picture. 

But though these fears turned out to be quite baseless, we now 
became involved in a much more serious predicament. The wolves, 
possibly deterred by the noise from our serried ranks or more 
probably by the blaze of light, or possibly because they were on the 
rampage elsewhere, did not attack us, and indeed did not put in an 


appearance. However, the workers on an estate which we happened 
to be skirting, thinking from our numbers that we were bandits, in 
their anxious concern for their property were thrown into a state of 
panic, and set their dogs on us with hunting cries and a general 
hullabaloo. These were ferocious great animals, as savage as any wolf 
or bear, specially reared as guard-dogs. Fierce as they were by nature, 
they were now further enraged by the uproar made by their masters, 

Page 117 

and flew at us, attacking from all quarters, tearing at beasts and men 
alike, until at length their violence had left most of our company 
down on the ground. The sight was not so much memorable as 
miserable: this great pack of infuriated dogs, some seizing on those 
who tried to escape, some grappling with those who stood their 
ground, some standing over the fallen, rending and ranging through 
the length and breadth of our caravan. This was bad enough, but 
worse was to follow. From the rooftops and from a hill nearby the 
peasants began to hurl down at us a barrage of stones, so that we were 
hard put to it to know which danger to beware of more, the dogs at 
close quarters or the stones at long range. One of the latter indeed 
suddenly hit the woman who was riding me on the head. Her tears 
and cries of pain immediately brought her husband, the 


head groom, to her aid. He loudly invoked the gods, and as he wiped 
away her blood he protested at the top of his voice: ‘What is this 
barbarity? Why attack and stone distressed travellers, human beings 
like yourselves? What plunder are you hoping for? What wrongs 
have you to avenge? You aren’t wild animals or savages, denizens of 
caves or rocks, that you should take pleasure in shedding human 

He had scarcely uttered these words when the rain of stones 
stopped, the fierce dogs were called off, and the tumult died down. 
Then one of the villagers called out from the top of a cypress: ‘We’re 
not brigands and we don’t want to plunder you - we thought you 
were, and that was the danger we were trying to beat off. Now you 
can go on your way safely in peace.’ That was all very well, but it was 
with heavy casualties all round that we set out again, some bruised 
by stones, some displaying bites - nobody had escaped injury. After 
we had gone some distance we came to a grove of tall trees and green 
grass, a pleasant spot, where our leaders decided to rest and 
recuperate for a time while they attended carefully to their various 
injuries. First they all collapsed and lay on the ground to recover 
from their fatigue; then they set about applying appropriate 
remedies to their wounds. One was washing off the blood with water 
from a nearby stream, another was putting a vinegar compress on his 
bruises, another was bandaging an open wound. So each man took 
thought for his own welfare. 


Meanwhile an old man was watching us from the top of a 
neighbouring hill, obviously a shepherd, for there were goats grazing 

Page 11 8 

around him. One of our men asked him whether he had any milk for 
sale, either fresh or in the form of new cheese. For a long time he 
merely shook his head. At last, ‘Are you thinking,’ he asked, ‘of food 
or drink or any kind of refreshment now? Haven’t you any idea 
where you’ve chosen to stop?’ And so saying he rounded up his 
flock, turned about, and left the scene. His words and his 
disappearance greatly alarmed our herdsmen. Panic-stricken, they 
were anxiously asking each other what sort of a place this was and 
finding nobody to tell them, when there appeared on the road 
another old man, this one tall but bowed down by age, leaning heavily 
on a staff and wearily dragging his feet, and weeping profusely. When 
he saw us he burst out crying, and supplicating each man in turn he 
uttered the following appeal: 


‘I implore you by your Fortunes and your Guardian Spirits, if you 
hope to reach my age in health and happiness, come to the aid of an 
old man in his bereavement, rescue my little boy from death and 
restore him to his white-haired grandfather. My grandson, my darling 
travelling-companion, was trying to catch a bird that was singing in 
the hedgerow, and fell into a yawning pit in the bottom of the 
thicket. Now he is in peril of his life; I know he is alive, for I can 
hear him crying and calling “Grandfather” over and over again, but as 
you see I am too feeble in body to be able to rescue him. But you are 
young and strong, and it will be no trouble to you to help a poor old 
man and to restore to me this child, the last of my line and all the 
family I have left.’ 

As he uttered this plea and tore his white hair, everybody pitied 
him. Then one of them, braver and younger and stronger than the 
rest, the only one who had come off unscathed from the recent battle, 
jumped up eagerly and asked where exactly the boy had fallen in. The 
old man pointed out a thicket not far away, and the volunteer went 
off briskly with him. After a while, when we animals had grazed and 
the men had seen to themselves and felt restored, they all began to 
pack up and get ready to move off. First of all they called the 
volunteer by name, with loud and repeated shouts; then alarmed by 
the prolonged delay they sent a messenger to find him and warn him 
that it was time to leave, and bring him back. Almost immediately 
the messenger reappeared, deathly pale and terrified, with dreadful 
news of his fellow servant. He had found him lying half-eaten, with a 
monstrous serpent crouched over him and devouring him, and of the 
poor old man not a sign anywhere. Hearing this and recollecting what 

Page 11 9 

the old shepherd had said, they realized that this indeed was the 
fierce denizen of the region that he had been threatening them with, 
and at once quitted the pestilential place and fled precipitately, 
urging us animals on with continual 


beating. So after a long stage at top speed we came to a village where 
we rested for the night. At this place there had been perpetrated a 
deed that was so memorable that I propose to put it on record. 

It concerned a certain slave to whom his master had confided the 
whole management of his household and who was the steward of the 
large estate where we had stopped. He had as his consort another 
slave from the household, but he was madly in love with somebody 
else, a free woman who was not a member of the family. His wife 
was so enraged by his infidelity that she made a bonfire of all her 
husband’s account-books and the entire contents of the barns and 
storehouses. Then, not thinking this enough of a revenge for the 
affront to her marriage-bed, she turned her fury against her own flesh 
and blood: passing a noose around her neck, with the same rope she 
tied to herself the little boy that she had had by her husband, and 
threw herself down a deep well, dragging the child down with her. 
Their master, greatly upset by her death, arrested the slave whose 
lust had been the cause of such a crime, had him stripped naked and 
smeared all over with honey and lashed tightly to a fig-tree. This had 
in its hollow trunk an ants’ nest, swarming and seething with their 
multitudinous comings and goings. Directly they sensed the sweet 
honeyed scent of the man’s body they battened on it with their tiny 
jaws, nibbling endlessly away in their thousands until after many 
days of torture they had devoured him completely, entrails and all, 
leaving his bones bare; only his gleaming white skeleton, stripped of 
flesh, was left fastened to the fatal tree. 


Leaving its inhabitants in deep mourning we quitted this 
abominable place and set out again across the plain. At evening we 
arrived tired out at a certain large and famous city. Here the 
herdsmen decided to take up permanent residence; they thought it a 
secure refuge from even the most determined pursuit, and, an added 
attraction, provisions were good and plentiful. They allowed three 
days for feeding us animals up, so as to be more saleable, and then 
they took us to market. The auctioneer called out the price of each 
animal in a loud voice, and the horses and the other asses were 
knocked down to prosperous buyers; I alone was left, 

Page 120 

contemptuously passed over by nearly everybody. In the end I 
became tired of being handled by people trying to calculate my age 
from my teeth, and when one of them started scraping my gums with 
his filthy fingers, I clamped my jaws on his dirty stinking hand good 
and hard. After that none of the bystanders would venture to make an 
offer for such a savage animal. So the auctioneer, at the top of his 
voice and to the detriment of his vocal chords, started to make fun of 
me and my unfortunate condition. ‘How long,’ he shouted, ‘have I got 
to waste my time trying to sell this clapped-out old hack? Look at 
him: his hooves are so worn he can hardly stand, he’s deformed by 
ill-treatment, he’s as vicious as he’s idle, he’s nothing but a sieve on 
four legs. All right: I’ll make a present of him to anybody who doesn’t 
mind wasting fodder.’ 


With jokes of this kind the auctioneer kept the crowd in fits of 
laughter. But now my cruel Fortune, whom, though I fled never so 
far afield, I had not been able to escape or appease by all that I had 
suffered, once again turned her blind eyes on me and, wonderful to 
relate, produced a buyer who could not have suited my unhappy 
circumstances more perfectly. Let me describe him: he was a real old 
queen, bald apart from a few grizzled ringlets, one of your street- 
corner scum, one of those who carry the Syrian Goddess around our 
towns to the sound of cymbals and castanets and make her beg for her 
living. He was keen to buy me and asked the auctioneer where I came 
from. He pronounced me to be a genuine Cappadocian and quite a 
strong little beast. Then he asked my age; the auctioneer answered 
humorously: ‘Well, an astrologer who cast his horoscope said he was 
in his fifth year, but the beast himself could tell you better from his 
tax return. I know I’d be liable to the penalties of the Cornelian law if 
I sold you a Roman citizen as a slave, but here’s a good and deserving 
servant who can be of use to you both at home and abroad. Won’t 
you buy him?’ But my tiresome purchaser persisted with one 
question after another, 


wanting particularly to know if he could warrant me tractable. ‘Why,’ 
said the man, ‘this here isn’t a donkey, it’s an old bell-wether: he’s 
placid, will do anything you want, he doesn’t bite or kick - you’d 
think it was a well-behaved man dwelling in an ass’s skin. You can 
easily find out - put your face between his thighs, and you’ll soon 
discover the extent of his patience.’ 

These witticisms at the old guzzler’s expense were not lost on him, 

Page 121 

and putting on a great show of indignation he retorted: ‘You zombie, 
you stuffed dummy, damn you and your auctioneer’s blether, may 
the almighty mother of all, she of Syria, and holy Sabadius and 
Bellona and the Idaean Mother and queen Venus with her Adonis 
strike you blind for the coarse buffoonery I’ve had to take from you. 
You bloody fool, do you think I can entrust the goddess to an unruly 
beast who might suddenly upset the divine image and throw it off, 
leaving its unfortunate guardian to run about with her hair all over 
the place looking for a doctor for her goddess lying on the ground?’ 
When I heard this I wondered if I shouldn’t suddenly start bucking as 
if possessed, so that seeing me in a savage temper he would break off 
the negotiation. However, he was so anxious to buy me that he paid 
the price down on the nail and nipped that idea in the bud. My 
master, I suppose, was so pleased to see the last of me that he readily 
took seventeen denarii for me, and handed me over with a bit of rope 
for bridle to Philebus, that being my new owner’s name. 


Taking delivery of this new member of the family he led me off 
home, where as soon as he got indoors he called out: ‘Look, girls, at 
the pretty little slave I’ve bought and brought home for you.’ But 
these ‘girls’ were a troupe of queens, who at once appeared jumping 
for joy and squealing untunefully in mincing effeminate tones, in the 
belief that it really was a human slave that had been brought to serve 
them. When they saw that this was not a case of a hind substituting 
for a maiden but an ass taking the place of a man, they began to sneer 
and mock their chief, saying that this wasn’t a servant he’d brought 
but a husband for himself. ‘And listen,’ they said. ‘You’re not to 
gobble up this nice little nestling all on your own - we’re your lovey- 
doveys too, and you must let us have a share sometimes.’ Exchanging 
badinage of this sort they tied me up next to the manger. They also 
had in the house a beefy young man, an accomplished piper, whom 
they had bought in the market from the proceeds of their street 
collections. Out of doors he tagged along playing his instrument when 
they carried the goddess around, at home he was toyboy in ordinary 
to the whole establishment. As soon as he saw me joining the 
household, without waiting for orders he served me out a generous 
ration of food and welcomed me joyfully. ‘At last,’ he said, ‘here’s 
somebody to spell me in my loathsome duties. Long life to you! May 
you please our masters and bring relief to my exhausted loins!’ When 
I heard this I began to picture to myself the ordeals that lay ahead of 


Page 122 

Next day they all put on tunics of various hues and ‘beautified’ 
themselves by smearing coloured gunge on their faces and applying 
eye-shadow. Then they set forth, dressed in turbans and robes, some 
saffron-coloured, some of linen and some of gauze; some had white 
tunics embroidered with a pattern of purple stripes and girded at the 
waist; and on their feet were yellow slippers. The goddess, draped in 
silk, they placed on my back, and baring their arms to the shoulder 
and brandishing huge swords and axes, they capered about with 
ecstatic cries, while the sound of the pipes goaded their dancing to 
frenzy. After calling at a number of small houses they arrived at a 
rich man’s country estate. The moment they entered the gates there 
was bedlam; they rushed about like fanatics, howling discordantly, 
twisting their necks sinuously back and forth with lowered heads, 
and letting their long hair fly around in circles, sometimes attacking 
their own flesh with their teeth, and finally gashing their arms with 
the weapons they carried. In the middle of all this, one of them was 
inspired to fresh excesses of frenzy; he began to gasp and draw deep 
laboured breaths, feigning madness like one divinely possessed - as if 
the presence of a god sickened and enfeebled men instead of making 
them better! 


Anyway, let me tell you how heavenly Providence rewarded him. 
Holding forth like some prophet he embarked on a cock-and-bull 
story about some sacrilegious act he accused himself of having 
committed, and condemned himself to undergo the just punishment 
for his crime at his own hands. So, seizing a whip such as these 
effeminates always carry about with them, its lashes made of twisted 
wool ending in long tassels thickly studded with sheep’s 
knucklebones, he laid into himself with these knotted thongs, 
standing the pain of the blows with extraordinary hardihood. What 
with the sword-cuts and the flogging, the ground was awash with the 
contaminated blood of these creatures. All this worried me a good 
deal: seeing all these wounds and gore all over the place I was afraid 
that, just as some men drink asses’ milk, this foreign goddess might 
conceive an appetite for asses’ blood. Finally, however, exhausted or 
sated with lacerating themselves, they gave over the carnage, and 
started to stow away in the roomy folds of their robes the coppers, 
indeed the silver money, that people crowded round to bestow on 
them - and not only money but jars of wine and milk and cheeses and 
a quantity of corn and wheat; and some presented the bearer of the 
goddess with barley. They greedily raked in all this stuff, crammed it 
into the sacks that they had ready for these acquisitions, and loaded 
it on my back, so that I was carrying a double load, a walking barn 

Page 123 

and temple combined. 


In this way they roved about plundering the whole countryside. In 
one village they enjoyed a particularly lavish haul and decided to 
celebrate with a banquet. As the price for a fake oracle they got a fat 
ram from one of the farmers, which they said was to be sacrificed to 
appease the hungry goddess. Having made all the arrangements for 
dinner they went off to the baths, whence having bathed they 
brought back with them to share their dinner a robust young 
peasant, finely equipped in loin and groin. Dinner was hardly begun 
and they had scarcely started on the hors-d’ oeuvre when the filthy 
scum became inflamed by their unspeakable lusts to outrageous 
lengths of unnatural depravity. The young man was stripped and laid 
on his back, and crowding round him they made repeated demands 
on his services with their loathsome mouths. Finally I couldn’t stand 
the sight and tried to shout ‘Romans, to the rescue!’; but the other 
letters and syllables failed me and all that came out was an ‘O’ - a 
good loud one, creditable to an ass, but the timing was unfortunate. It 
so happened that some young men from the next village were looking 
for an ass that had been stolen that night and were conducting a 
thorough search of all the lodging-houses. Hearing me braying inside 
and believing that their quarry was hidden away there, they burst in 
unexpectedly in a body to reclaim their property then and there, and 
caught our friends red-handed at their vile obscenities. They 
immediately called all the neighbours to witness this shocking scene, 
ironically praising the priests for their spotless virtue. 


Demoralized by this scandal, news of which soon spread and 
naturally got them loathed and detested by one and all, they packed 
up everything and left the place surreptitiously at about midnight. 
By sunrise they had covered a good many miles, and by the time it 
was broad day they found themselves in a remote and desolate area. 
There they stopped and held a long discussion, as a result of which 
they prepared to kill me. They removed the goddess from my back 
and placed her on the ground, stripped me of all my accoutrements, 
and tied me to an oak-tree; then with that whip with its bone- 
studded thongs they scourged me almost to death. One of them 
threatened to hamstring me with his axe for having (he said) made a 
shameful conquest of his unblemished honour; but the rest of them, 
thinking not so much of my welfare as of the goddess lying there on 
the ground, voted for sparing my life. So they loaded me up again, 
and threatening me with the flat of their swords, they arrived at a 

Page 124 

certain important city. There one of the principal citizens, an 
extremely devout and godfearing man, came running out to meet us, 
roused by the clash of cymbals and the beating of tambourines and 
the seductive strains of the Phrygian music; being under a vow to 
welcome and receive the goddess, he allowed us to camp in the 
precincts of his large house and laid himself out to propitiate her 
godhead with pious worship and rich sacrifices. 


It was in this place, I remember, that I had the narrowest of all my 
escapes from death. It happened that one of the tenants had been 
hunting and sent his master the fat haunch of a fine stag as his share 
of the kill. This was carelessly left hanging up within reach near the 
kitchen door, where one of the dogs, itself a hunter, got at it 
unnoticed and hastily made off in triumph with his booty without 
anybody spotting him. When the cook discovered his loss he cursed 
himself for his carelessness and wept many unavailing tears; then 
when his master started to ask when dinner would be ready, he said 
goodbye to his little son, took a rope, and was preparing to hang 
himself. When his faithful wife grasped her husband’s desperate 
intention, she tore the fatal noose out of his hands. ‘Are you out of 
your mind?’ she demanded. ‘Has this calamity unnerved you so 
much that you can’t see the remedy that divine Providence is 
offering out of the blue? If this misfortune hasn’t left you too dizzy 
to see sense, snap out of it and listen to me. Take this ass that’s just 
arrived to somewhere out of the way and slit his throat. You can cut 
off a haunch to match the one we’ve lost, and if you cook it skilfully 
and season it well with savoury herbs you can serve it to the master 
instead of the venison.’ The brute approved this plan to save his life 
at the expense of mine, damn him, and loudly praising his consort’s 
ingenuity he began to sharpen his knives for the intended butchery. 

Page 125 


A lucky escape - the story of the lover and the jar- 
the priests arrested for theft - Lucius sold to a miller 
- in the mill again - the miller's evil wife - more 
stories of adultery - death of the miller - sold to a 
market- gardener - the story of a house destroyed - 
commandeered by the military 

1 While my infamous executioner was thus arming his ungodly hands 
against me, I did not waste time in protracted thought: the danger was 
too acute and immediate to allow of indecision, and I resolved to 
escape from the butchery that threatened me by flight. Without more 
ado I wrenched myself free of my tether and took off at full gallop, 
covering my retreat by a vigorous rearguard action with my hind 
hooves, and passing at speed through the connecting colonnade I 
catapulted myself into the dining-room where the master of the 
house was holding a sacrificial feast with the priests. My headlong 
entry sent everything flying, plates, dishes, tables, torches, the lot. 
Our host was greatly put out by this unsightly havoc and my 
inopportune intrusion, and handed me over to an attendant with 
strict orders to shut me up safely somewhere where I wouldn’t 
disturb their peaceful gathering with any more such skittishness. 
Protected by this clever plan of mine and wrested from the butcher’s 
clutches, I was quite happy to be locked up in prison safe and sound. 

But it’s a dead certainty that nothing can go right for any human 
being if Fortune sets her face against him, and no decision, however 
prudent, no counter-measures, however cunning, can upset or change 
what divine Providence has decreed and ordained. In my case the 
very scheme which I thought had saved my bacon for the time being 
now gave rise to a new and alarming peril, sheer destruction 


indeed, from another quarter. For as the guests were quietly 
conversing there now suddenly burst into the dining-room a slave, his 
face convulsed with terror, who reported to his master that a rabid 
bitch had just rushed violently in at the back door and had in a frenzy 
attacked the pack of hounds; then she had invaded the stable next 
door and similarly savaged many of the animals there, and finally the 
staff themselves had not escaped. Myrtilus the muleteer and 
Flephaestio the cook and Hypnophilus the groom of the chambers 
and Apollonius the doctor and a number of others had all been bitten 
in different places while trying to drive her away. It was, he said, 

Page 126 

clear that many of the animals had been infected by her poisonous 
bites and must likewise be rabid. 

This news greatly alarmed everybody, and believing that I too had 
taken the infection and was mad they grabbed whatever weapons 
came to hand, and exhorting each other to combine against the 
common peril - though they were the ones who were really mad - 
they came after me. They would certainly have hacked me limb from 
limb with their lances and spears and even hatchets which the 
servants hurried to supply, had I not grasped the danger of this 
whirlwind assault and at once rushed into the room where the 
priests were lodged. They immediately shut and bolted the door after 
me and mounted guard outside, preserving themselves from contact 
with me and leaving me to succumb to the devouring and inexorable 
madness of the fatal infection. Thus, free at last, I embraced the 
solitude granted me by Fortune, and lying down on a proper bed I 
slept the first human sleep I had enjoyed for many a long day. 

It was broad daylight when I got up; I was in excellent form, my 
weariness dispelled by the softness of my bed. I could hear the people 
who had been on watch outside all night wondering how I was. ‘Do 
you think the poor beast is still raging mad?’ ‘No, it’s more likely that 
the poison has increased in violence and that he’s dead.’ They 
decided to settle the difference of opinion by having a look, and 
peeping through a crack they found me standing there quietly, sane 
and composed. Then they ventured to open the door wider to see if I 
were now quite docile. However, one of them, whom I must regard 
as a saviour sent to me from heaven, explained to the others how to 
prove whether I was sane or not. It was to offer me a bucketful of 
fresh water to drink: if I drank it eagerly and without any sign of fear 
as usual, they could be sure I was sane and wholly free of the 
infection. If on the other hand I backed away and panicked at the 
sight or touch of water it would be clear that the madness persisted. 
This was the standard test, recorded in the ancient authorities. 

They agreed, and quickly fetched a large pail of sparkling water 
from the nearest fountain, which they offered me, though still with 
some hesitation. I, however, far from hanging back, came forward to 
meet them, stretched out my neck thirstily, plunged my head right 
into that literally life-saving water, and drank up every drop of it. 
Then I quietly let them pat me and fondle my ears and lead me by the 
bridle and test me in any other way they liked, until I had proved to 

Page 127 

everybody’s satisfaction that, contrary to their insane assumption, I 
was completely docile. And that was how I escaped from my double 
danger. The next day I was loaded up again with the goddess and her 
attributes and led out to the sound of the castanets and cymbals on 
my beggar’s progress. After visiting a number of cottages and hamlets 
we came to a village built in the ruins of what the inhabitants told us 
had once been a flourishing city. There we put up at the first inn we 
came to, where we heard an amusing story of how a poor man was 
cuckolded, which I should like you to hear too. 

This man was extremely poor; he made his living by hiring himself 
out as a day-labourer at very low wages. He had a wife, as poor as 
himself, but notorious for her outrageously immoral behaviour. One 
day, directly he had left early for the job he had in hand, there 
quietly slipped into the house her dashing blade of a lover. While 
they were busily engaged with each other, no holds barred, and not 
expecting visitors, the husband, quite unaware of the situation, and 
not suspecting anything of the kind, unexpectedly came back. Finding 
the door closed and locked he commended his wife’s virtue, and 
knocked, whistling to identify himself. The cunning baggage, who 
was past mistress in goings-on of this kind, disentangled her lover 
from her tight embraces and quietly ensconced him in an empty 
storage-jar which stood half hidden in a corner. Then she opened the 
door, and before her husband was well inside she greeted him acidly. 
‘So,’ said she, ‘I’m to watch you strolling about idly, doing nothing 
and with your hands in your pockets instead of going to work as 
usual and seeing about getting us something to live on and buy food 
with? Here am I wearing my fingers to the bone night and day with 
spinning wool, just to keep a light burning in our hovel! Don’t I wish 
I was Daphne next door, rolling about in bed with her lovers and 
already tight by breakfast-time!’ 

Her husband was put out. ‘What’s all that for?’ he asked. ‘The boss 
has got to be in court, so he’s given us the day off; but I have done 
something about today’s dinner. You know that jar that never has 
anything in it and takes up space uselessly - doing nothing in fact but 
get in our way? I’ve just sold it to a man for six denarii, and he’s 
coming to pay up and collect his property. So how about some action 
and lending me a hand for a minute to rout it out and hand it over?’ 
The crafty minx was quite equal to this and shrieked with laughter. 
’Some husband I’ve got! Some bargainer! He’s disposed of it for six, 
and I, a mere woman, I’ve already sold it for seven without even 

Page 12 8 

leaving the house!’ Her husband was delighted by the increased 
price. ‘Where is this chap who’s made such a good offer?’ he asked. 
‘He’s inside it, stupid,’ she answered, ‘giving it a good going-over to 
see if it’s sound.’ 

Her lover did not miss his cue. Emerging at once, ‘If you want me to 
be frank, ma’am,’ he said, ‘this jar of yours is pretty antique, and 
there are yawning cracks all over it’; and turning to the husband as if 
he had no idea who he was, ‘Come on, chum, whoever you are, get 
cracking and fetch me a light, so I can scrape away all the inside dirt 
and see if the thing’s fit to use - money doesn’t grow on trees, you 
know.’ Her admirable husband, sharp fellow, suspected nothing, and 
at once lighted a lamp. ‘Come out, old man,’ he said. ’Sit down and 
make yourself comfortable, and let me get it cleaned out properly for 
you.’ So saying, he stripped and taking the lamp in with him started 
to scrape the encrusted deposits off the rotten old jar. Meanwhile her 
smart young gallant made the man’s wife lean face downwards across 
the jar, and without turning a hair gave her too a good going-over. 
She lowered her head into the jar and enjoyed herself at her 
husband’s expense like the clever whore she was, pointing at this 
place or that or yet another one that needed scouring, until both jobs 
were finished. Then the unfortunate artisan took his seven denarii 
and was made to carry the jar himself to the adulterer’s house. 

Having stayed in this place for a few days, fattened by public 
charity and stuffed with the ample proceeds of their prophesying, 
these most chaste of priests devised a new way of making money. 
They composed one all-purpose oracle and used it to bamboozle the 
crowds of people who came to consult them about all sorts of things. 
This was how it went: 

The yoked oxen drive the furrow now, 

So that one day luxuriant crops shall grow. 

Then if somebody consulted them, say, about getting married, they 
would answer that it was obvious: the couple should yoke 
themselves in wedlock and raise a crop of children. If somebody 
asked about buying an estate, there it was in so many words, oxen 
and yokes and flourishing crops. If somebody was worried about 
undertaking a journey and sought divine guidance, the answer was 
that the tamest beasts in the world were harnessed and ready to start 
and that the luxuriant crops meant profit. If somebody was going on 
military service or on an expedition against bandits and wanted to 

Page 129 

know whether their enterprise would succeed, they declared that 
victory was absolutely guaranteed by the oracle: the necks of the 
enemy would bow beneath the yoke and there would be a rich and 
fruitful yield in the shape of plunder. 


By this crafty method of divination they raked in a good deal of 
money. However, under the ceaseless flow of questions they began to 
run short of answers, and set off on their travels again. This road was 
much worse than any we had journeyed over yet, potholed and 
rutted, sometimes leading through standing pools, sometimes slimy 
and slippery with mud. I lost count of the number of times I 
stumbled and fell; I knocked myself about so much that when we 
finally reached level ground I was almost too tired to go on. At that 
moment we were suddenly overtaken by a troop of armed horsemen; 
reining in their horses with difficulty from their wild gallop, they fell 
on Philebus and his colleagues and seized them by the scruff of the 
neck, accusing them of sacrilege and worse and pummelling them 
with their fists as they spoke. Then they fettered them all and began 
to harangue them insistently, pressing them to ‘produce the gold cup. 
Come on,’ they said, ‘produce it, produce the proceeds of your crime. 
You filched it from the innermost sanctum of the Mother of the Gods 
while you pretended to perform your secret ceremonies - and then as 
if you could escape the punishment of so heinous a 


crime by a moonlight flit, you left the town before daybreak.’ And 
suiting the action to the word one of them laid hold of me, and 
rummaging in the very bosom of the goddess whom I carried found 
the gold cup and displayed it to everybody. However, it would have 
taken more than this revelation of their iniquity to abash or dismay 
such lost souls as these. They simply laughed and affected to make a 
joke of it. ‘See how wrong and unjust you can get!’ they said. ‘As 
usual, it’s the innocent who are accused and put at risk! All because 
of one little goblet which the Mother of the Gods presented to her 
Syrian sister-goddess as a memento of her stay, respectable priests are 
to be treated like criminals on a capital charge!’ 

All this nonsense and a lot more like it got them nowhere; the 
villagers took them back and confined them in chains in the local 
Clink. The cup and the image which I was carrying they consecrated 
and deposited in the temple treasury. The next day they brought me 
out and put me up for sale once again, and I was knocked down to a 
miller from a neighbouring village for seven sesterces more than 

Page 130 

Philebus had paid for me. He immediately loaded me heavily with 
some corn that he had just bought and led me by a steep path, strewn 
with stones and stumps of all kinds, to his mill. 


In this place a large number of animals were employed in turning 
round and round mills of various sizes. It was not only by day but all 
night long that they kept the machinery in perpetual motion and 
burned, so to speak, the midnight oil to produce their nightly quota 
of flour. I, however, was treated as a distinguished guest by my new 
master, I suppose because he thought that if I were immediately 
initiated into this slavery I should cut up rough. So he gave me my 
first day off, and my manger was abundantly supplied with food. 
This life of leisure and happy repletion lasted for just that one day. 
Early next morning I was harnessed to what seemed to be the largest 
of the mills, blindfolded, and immediately forced round the circular 
track, restricted by the revolving motion, and so walking back and 
forth and always retracing my footsteps, wandering but never 
deviating in my wanderings. However, acute and sensible as ever, I 
declined to submit tamely to this apprenticeship. Though, when I 
was a man among men, I had often seen this sort of machinery in 
operation, I now pretended to have no experience or knowledge of 
such work and stood stock still in feigned bewilderment. I thought, 
you see, that I would be considered unsuited to this kind of 
employment and absolutely useless at it, and be set to some lighter 
work or even be left to feed in idleness. My cleverness got me 
nowhere - far from it, for several of them at once armed themselves 
with sticks and standing in a circle - being blindfolded I had no idea 
what was happening - at a given signal they all shouted and laid into 
me. I was so startled by the commotion that I totally jettisoned all my 
plans, and scientifically throwing my weight into the collar I broke 


into a brisk trot. This abrupt change of policy occasioned general 

The day was nearly over and I was pretty well worn out when they 
undid my harness, released me from my attachment to the mill, and 
tethered me to my manger. But, fatigued as I was and desperately 
needing to restore my strength - I was indeed nearly dying of hunger 
- yet my natural curiosity possessed me, and neglecting my plentiful 
supply of food I became totally absorbed in studying, with a kind of 
pleasure, the routine of this unpleasant establishment. As to the 
human contingent - what a crew! - their whole bodies picked out 

Page 131 

with livid weals, their whip-scarred backs shaded rather than 
covered by their tattered rags, some with only a scanty loin-cloth by 
way of covering, and all of them showing through the rents in what 
clothes they had. There were branded foreheads, half-shaven heads, 
and fettered ankles; their faces were sallow, their eyes so bleared by 
the smoky heat of the furnaces that they were half blind; and like 
boxers, who sprinkle themselves with dust before fighting, they were 
dirty white all over with a floury powder. 


When I turn to my fellow inmates in the stable, words almost fail 
me. What an array of old mules and clapped-out nags of horses! Their 
heads down in the trough, they were gobbling up great quantities of 
chaff; there they stood, with suppurating sores on their sagging 
necks, their nostrils dilated with perpetual coughing, their chests 
galled by the continual rubbing of their harness, their ribs laid bare 
by countless beatings, their hooves monstrously enlarged by their 
endless circlings, and their coats dirty and rough and mangy from 

Seeing this lamentable household I feared a similar fate for myself, 
and remembering Lucius as he was in happier days and with the end 
now finally staring me in the face, I let my head hang down and 
abandoned myself to grief. The only comfort I had in this wretched 
existence was the entertainment furnished by my inborn curiosity, 
since everybody behaved and spoke with complete freedom in front 
of me, paying no attention to my presence. Very rightly did the 
divine originator of ancient Greek poetry, when he wished to define a 
consummately wise man, sing of one who attained supreme virtue by 
visiting many cities and acquainting himself with many peoples. 
Speaking for myself, I am devoutly grateful to the ass that I once was, 
for it was he, when I was concealed under his hide and was buffeted 
by so many tribulations, who rendered me, no wiser, I must admit, 
but very widely informed. 


Now, let me present to you an exceptionally good story, a prettily 
polished production. The miller who had bought me was himself an 
honest and thoroughly decent man, but the wife who had fallen to his 
lot was a dreadful woman, the worst of her sex, and made his bed and 
board such a misery to him that even I silendy groaned at what he 
had to put up with. Not a single vice was wanting in this abominable 
woman’s make-up; her heart was like a slimy cesspit in which every 
kind of moral turpitude had collected. She was hard-hearted, 

Page 132 

perverse, man-mad, drunken, and stubborn to the last degree. Tight- 
fisted in the squalid pursuit of gain, lavish in spending on 
debauchery, she had no use for loyalty and was a sworn enemy to 
chastity. Worse still, she had rejected and spurned the heavenly gods, 
and in place of true religion she had falsely and blasphemously set up 
a deity of her own whom she proclaimed as the One and Only God; 
and having bamboozled the world in general and her husband in 
particular by meaningless rituals of her own invention, she was able 
to give herself over to a day-long course of drinking and prostitution. 


That then was his wife, and she persecuted me with extraordinary 
venom. Before dawn, while she was still in bed, she would call for the 
new ass to be harnessed to the mill; and as soon as she was up and 
about she would come and stand there and order them to thrash me 
as hard as they could while she watched. When it was time for 
dinner and the other animals were released, she would not let me be 
taken to the manger until much later. This cruel treatment whetted 
my natural curiosity about her behaviour. I was aware that there was 
a young man who regularly visited her bedroom, and I very much 
wanted to see his face, if my eyes ever got a moment’s freedom from 
their blindfold - for my resourcefulness would have been entirely 
adequate to uncover, somehow or other, this detestable woman’s 
delinquencies. There was an old crone, her accomplice in her 
debauchery and the go-between in her affairs, who was in her 
company all day and every day. The two of them would breakfast 
together, and then over their neat wine they would conspire to plan 
their next campaign, devising tortuous schemes and treacherous 
plots for the undoing of her unfortunate husband. Though I was still 
very angry with Photis for her mistake in making me an ass instead 
of a bird, I had this one consolation in my woeful deformity, that the 
long ears with which I was equipped enabled me to follow 
everything that was happening even at a considerable distance. 


One day then this old woman’s voice came hesitantly to my ears. 
‘Madam,’ she said, ‘of course it’s your affair entirely; it was you who 
acquired, without consulting me, this slug, this poltroon of a lover, 
who supinely dreads the frown of that tiresome and obnoxious 
husband of yours and, his passion enfeebled and slackened by fear, 
hurts you by his failure to respond to your willing embraces. What a 
contrast to Philesitherus! He’s young, handsome, generous and 
vigorous, a stalwart match for any husband’s useless precautions. He 
deserves, if any man does, to enjoy the favours of every wife, he 

Page 133 

deserves a crown of gold if only for the masterly scheme he recently 
devised against a jealous husband. Let me tell you about it, and you’ll 


see how different lovers can be. You know Barbarus, one of our town 
councillors - the people call him the Scorpion because he’s so sharp 
in his ways. He had a wife of good family and great beauty whom he 
kept locked up at home under extraordinarily strict guard.’ Here the 
miller’s wife struck in: ‘Of course, I know her well; Arete was at 
school with me.’ ‘Then,’ said the old woman, ‘I suppose you know 
the whole story of her and Philesitherus?’ ‘Not at all,’ she answered, 
‘but I’m dying to hear it. Please, mother, tell me everything just as it 
happened.’ At once the garrulous old gossip began: ‘Barbarus, having 
to be away from home and wishing to protect his beloved wife’s 
chastity with the utmost care, gave secret instructions to a slave 
called Myrmex whom he knew to be completely trustworthy, and 
assigned to him the entire responsibility for looking after his 
mistress. He threatened him with perpetual imprisonment and a slow 
death by starvation if he allowed anybody whatever to so much as 
touch her in passing; and he confirmed his threat with an oath by all 
the gods. And so, leaving the terrified Myrmex in close attendance on 
his wife, Barbarus departed with his mind quite at ease. 

‘Worried sick, Myrmex absolutely refused to let his mistress leave 
the house, declining to be parted from her even when she was busy 
with her woolwork. When in the evening she had to go out to the 
baths, he attached himself firmly to her, holding on to the hem of her 
robe; and in this way with admirable keenness he faithfully 


fulfilled the assignment with which he was entrusted. But the noble 
dame’s beauty did not escape the watchful eye of the susceptible 
Philesitherus. The fame of her virtue and the excessive strictness 
with which she was guarded were enough in themselves to provoke 
and inflame his desire: ready to do or die in the attempt he mustered 
all his forces to take the citadel by storm. Knowing full well that 
men’s loyalty is a frail thing, that no obstacle is proof against money, 
and that gold will force open even gates of steel, he contrived to get 
Myrmex on his own, revealed his love, and begged and prayed him to 
relieve his torments. His mind, he said, was firmly made up: if he did 
not achieve his desire soon, he would kill himself without more ado. 
Not, he added, that Myrmex had anything to be afraid of: the thing 
was easy - he could slip into the house alone at evening safely 
concealed and protected by the darkness, and leave again in a matter 

Page 134 

of moments. To these and similar persuasions he added finally a 
powerful lever, calculated to uproot and overturn the slave’s rock- 
like determination: holding out his hand he showed him thirty bright 
new gold pieces, twenty for the girl and ten, in the goodness of his 
heart, for Myrmex himself. 


‘Myrmex was horrified at this outrageous proposal and rushed 
away stopping his ears. But he was haunted by the fiery vision of 
that gleaming gold, and though he made haste to remove himself 
from the scene and made off home at speed, he still kept on seeing 
the beautiful sheen of the coins, and could think of nothing else but 
that rich booty. For many hours the unfortunate man, tormented and 
distracted, was vacillating, his purpose driven this way and that like 
a wave-tossed boat: loyalty on the one hand, gain on the other, 
torture on that side, pleasure on this. Finally gold overcame his fear 
of death; and so far from his lust for that lovely money abating with 
the passing of time, the plague took over and preoccupied his nights: 
though his master’s threats kept him at home, the gold was 
beckoning him outside. In the end he swallowed his scruples, and 
without more ado took the message to his mistress. She, fickle like 
all women, acted in character and agreed to sell her honour for the 
accursed metal. Myrmex, overjoyed, flew off to accomplish the 
downfall of his loyalty, lusting not merely to possess but actually to 
hold the money that he had seen and that was to be his undoing. 
Happy and excited, he announced to Philesitherus that, thanks 
entirely to his Herculean efforts, what he so much longed for was 
accomplished, and in the same breath demanded the agreed reward. 
Then Myrmex’ hand grasped gold coins - a hand hitherto 
unconversant even with copper. 


‘So at dead of night he brought the adventurous lover, alone and 
with his head well muffled, to the house and ushered him into his 
mistress’s bedroom. The two of them lost no time in making an 
offering of their embraces to Love the Raw Recruit, and, stripped for 
action, were just beginning their first campaign under Venus’ banner, 
when quite unexpectedly, having stolen a march under cover of 
night, her husband suddenly presented himself at the door of the 
house. He knocked, he shouted, he banged on the door with a stone, 
and as every moment’s delay heightened his suspicions he began to 
threaten Myrmex with dire punishment. He, totally confused by this 
unforeseen calamity and not knowing what to do in his distraught 
state, made the only excuse he could think of, that the door-key had 

Page 135 

been so carefully hidden that he could not find it in the dark. 
Meanwhile Philesitherus, hearing the noise, quickly huddled on his 
tunic, but in his hurry to leave the room ran out barefoot. Then 
Myrmex finally unlocked and opened the door and let his master in, 
still invoking the gods; and while he made straight for the bedroom, 
Philesitherus was quietly and quickly let out. With him clear of the 
threshold, Myrmex locked up the house and went back to bed with 
nothing (so he thought) to worry about. 


‘But when day came and Barbarus got up, he saw under the bed a 
pair of sandals that he did not recognize, the ones that Philesitherus 
had worn on his visit, and immediately guessed what had been going 
on. However, he said nothing of his anguished suspicions either to 
his wife or to any of the household, but quietly picked up the sandals 
and hid them in his clothes. Then, merely ordering his fellow slaves 
to tie Myrmex up and bring him to the public square, he rapidly 
made his own way there, stifling his repeated groans, certain that the 
evidence of the sandals would enable him to uncover the adulterer’s 
tracks without any difficulty. But as the angry Barbarus was coming 
down the street, all scowls and frowns, with Myrmex behind him 
loaded with chains - though he had not been caught red-handed, he 
was demoralized by his guilty conscience and was trying ineffectually 
to arouse pity by frantic weeping and wailing - at that moment 
Philesitherus met them on his way to an appointment elsewhere 
about quite a different matter. Though startled by this unexpected 
sight he was not dismayed. He immediately realized the mistake he 
had made in his hurried departure and acutely guessed what must 
have happened; summoning up his habitual assurance, he pushed 
aside the escorting slaves and fell on Myrmex shouting at the top of 
his voice and pretending to pummel his face unmercifully. “Thief! 
Perjurer!” he bawled. “May your master here, may all the gods in 
heaven, that you had the nerve to call as witnesses to your oath, 
damn you to hell! It was you who stole my slippers yesterday in the 
baths! By God, you deserve to keep those chains on you until you’ve 
worn them out - you really ought to be in the dark behind bars.” The 
enterprising lover’s timely ruse took Barbarus in and indeed left him 
quite happy and credulous as before. On his return home he called 
Myrmex, gave him the slippers, and without more ado forgave him 
completely, urging him to restore them to their owner that he had 
stolen them from.’ 


At this point in the old woman’s chatter the wife interrupted: 

Page 136 

‘Lucky her, free to enjoy so steadfast a friend! What a contrast to me, 
landed with a lover who trembles at the sound of the mill or the sight 
of that mangy ass there.’ The old woman answered: ‘Leave it to me: 
I’ll talk him over and put heart into him, and I’ll go bail for his 
appearance - you’ll find him a really sprightly lover.’ With that she 
left the room, promising to return that evening. Meanwhile this 
chaste wife set to and prepared a regular Salian banquet, decanting 
rare wines and garnishing freshly cooked ragouts with preserved 
delicacies. Having set the table thus lavishly she awaited the arrival 
of her paramour as of some god. (Luckily it happened that her 
husband was dining out that evening with one of his neighbours, a 
fuller.) It was now nightfall, and I had at last been unharnessed and 
left to relax and refresh myself. However, I was congratulating myself 
less on being freed from my labours than on the fact that, my eyes 
being now uncovered, I had an uninterrupted view of all this 
woman’s carryings-on. Now the sun had sunk beneath the waves of 
Ocean and was lighting the subterranean regions of the world, when 
the evil old crone reappeared with the dashing adulterer in tow. He 
was no more than a lad, fresh-complexioned and smooth-chinned, 
himself still an adulterer’s delight. The wife welcomed him with a 
shower of kisses and invited him to sit down to dinner. 


However, the young man had scarcely sipped his first cup of wine 
and nibbled the hors-d’ ceuvre when the husband arrived back long 
before he was expected. The virtuous wife, consigning him to 
perdition and wishing he would break both legs, hastily hid her 
lover, panic-stricken and white with fear, under a wooden trough 
used for husking grain, which happened to be near at hand. Then, 
passing off her infamous behaviour with the cunning of her sex and 
feigning nonchalance, she asked her husband why he had left his 
good friend’s dinner and come back so early. He answered 
despondently and with many a sigh: ‘It was because I couldn’t stand 
the shocking misconduct of that abandoned woman that I came away. 
Ye gods, how could a virtuous and well-conducted wife like that 
besmirch and disgrace herself so foully? I swear by holy Ceres over 
there that with women like that around I don’t trust my eyes any 
more.’ Her interest excited by her husband’s words, his audacious 
wife was eager to hear all about it and kept on and on at him to tell 
the whole story from beginning to end. She persisted until he gave in 
and, unaware of what was going on under his own roof, proceeded to 
recount the misfortunes of another man’s house. 


Page 137 

‘My friend the fuller’s wife, ’ he said, ‘was a woman, so it seemed, 
of unimpeachable chastity and shining reputation, presiding 
virtuously over her husband’s house. She had, however, secretly 
fallen for a lover, and lost no opportunity of clandestine meetings 
with him. At the very moment that we arrived for dinner after our 
bath, she and the young man were making love. Alarmed by our 
unexpected appearance, she had a bright idea, and hid him under a 
wickerwork frame, a sort of wigwam on which cloth is draped to be 
bleached with sulphur fumes. Having ensconced him there, safely as 
she thought, she joined us at table without a care in the world. 
Meanwhile, however, the young man, choked and stifled by the 
pungent fumes of the sulphur, began to suffocate and - the usual 
effect of 


this potent chemical - began to emit a series of loud sneezes. At first, 
when he heard these sneezes coming from his wife’s direction, her 
husband thought they were hers and said the usual “bless you”, but 
when this had happened several times he began to think that it was 
rather too much of a good thing, and finally guessed the true state of 
affairs. Pushing the table abrupdy aside he whipped off the frame 
and revealed her lover, who was now almost at his last gasp. Burning 
with rage at this affront he called for a sword and was hell-bent on 
accelerating the man’s end by cutting his throat. However, I managed 
with some difficulty to restrain his fury, reckoning that we should all 
be in danger as accessories, and pointing out that his enemy would 
soon die in any case from the violent effects of the sulphur without 
any help from us. He calmed down, not so much because of anything 
I said as because of the hard facts of the situation, the man being 
already half dead, and dragged him out and left him in the 
neighbouring alley. Meanwhile I gave his wife some discreet advice, 
and finally got her to leave the shop for a while and get herself taken 
in by one of her women friends, to give her husband’s anger time to 
cool down. He was so red-hot and mad with rage that he was clearly 
thinking of doing both himself and her some fatal mischief. That was 
my friend’s dinner-party, and that’s why I’ve left it and come back 
home in disgust.’ 


All the while the miller was telling his story, his brazen-faced wife 
was heaping abuse on the fuller’s wife, calling her faithless, 
shameless, a disgrace to her sex, who had held her virtue cheap, who 
had trampled on the bond of the marriage-bed, who had dishonoured 
her husband’s house by turning it into a brothel, and had thrown 

Page 13 8 

away the dignity of a wife by exchanging it for the name of whore. 
Women like that, she added, deserved to be burned alive. She was, 
however, uneasily aware of her own secret amour and her guilty 
conscience, and wanting to release her lover from his uncomfortable 
refuge as soon as possible, she repeatedly suggested to her husband 
that it was high time for bed. But he had had his dinner cut short and 
had come away practically starving, so he politely said he would like 
something to eat. She at once produced supper, though with a bad 
grace, having intended it for somebody else. As for me, I was deeply 
upset to contemplate this abominable woman’s misdeeds and the way 
in which she was now brazening the thing out; and I thought 
carefully how I might assist my master by uncovering and disclosing 
her deceit, and how by knocking over the trough under which he lay 
tortoise-like, I might display her lover to the eyes of the world. 


While the thought of the indignity inflicted on my master was 
tormenting me, Providence for once smiled on me. There was a lame 
old man who was in charge of the stable, and as it was now time for 
us to be watered he came to lead us all out together to the nearby 
pond. This gave me the perfect opportunity for the revenge on which 
I was set. As I was going by I saw the man’s fingers sticking out from 
under the edge of the trough, which was rather too narrow for him; 
and treading sideways on them as hard as I could I ground them to 
pulp. Unable to bear the pain he yelled aloud and threw off the 
trough, and being thus restored to public view he uncovered this vile 
woman’s charade. The miller, however, did not seem unduly put out 
by this affront to his honour. Regarding the pale and trembling boy 
with an expression of calm benevolence he spoke soothingly to him. 
‘Don’t be afraid, my boy,’ he said, ‘I’m not going to be harsh with 
you. I’m no barbarian or brutish peasant; and I’m not going to follow 
the fuller’s cruel example and suffocate you with the deadly fumes of 
sulphur. I certainly shan’t invoke the severity of the law on adultery 
and demand the death sentence for such a pretty little lad as you. All 
I’m going to do is share you equally with my wife. I shan’t sue for 
the division of family property but for its common enjoyment, so 
that without controversy or dispute the three of us agree together in 
one bed. I’ve always lived so harmoniously with my wife that, as the 
wise recommend, our views on everything have always coincided. 
However, equity forbids the wife to have more authority than the 


With mocking blandishments of this sort he led the boy, who did 

Page 139 

not want to come but had no choice but to follow, to bed. His chaste 
wife he locked in another room; and then alone in bed with the boy 
he enjoyed a most gratifying revenge for the ruin of his marriage. As 
soon as it was light he called for two of his strongest slaves and had 
the boy hoisted aloft and tied up. Then he took a cane and thrashed 
him, saying: ‘What business has a delicate little creature like you, a 
mere child, to be cheating your lovers of the enjoyment of your 
youthful beauty and to be chasing women - free women at that - and 
breaking up legal marriages and usurping the name of adulterer 
before you’re of age?’ After a lot more to the same effect, all to the 
accompaniment of a thorough beating, he threw the boy out of the 
house. So our valiant seducer made off very sorry for himself, having 
unexpectedly escaped with his life, but with that white bottom of 
his a good deal the worse for wear after the experiences of both the 
night and the morning. The miller then followed suit with his wife, 
serving notice of divorce and throwing her too out of the house. 


She, however, on top of her natural malevolence was infuriated by 
this insult, richly though she deserved it, and took to her old ways 
again, resorting in her anger to the familiar arts of her sex. She took 
great pains to discover a certain old woman, past mistress of her 
profession, who it was believed could bring about anything by her 
curses and spells, and loading her with gifts she begged her earnestly 
to do one of two things: either to pacify her husband and reconcile 
him to her, or if that proved impossible, to send in a ghost or some 
evil spirit to put a violent end to his life. The witch, who could 
control the gods themselves, in her first offensive deployed only the 
light arms of her nefarious art, trying to soften the husband’s 
grievously wounded feelings and revive his love. When that did not 
succeed as she had expected, she took umbrage at the infernal 
powers, and incited as much by their lack of cooperation as by the 
reward she had been promised, she mounted an attack on the 
unfortunate man’s life, and raised the ghost of a woman who had 
died a violent death to destroy him. 


But perhaps at this point the attentive reader will start to pick holes 
in my story and take me up on it. ‘How is it, you clever ass you,’ they 
will say, ‘that while you were confined in the mill you were able, as 
you say, to know what these women were doing in secret?’ All right: 
let me tell you how a man of an inquiring turn of mind in the guise of 
a beast of burden found out the whole story of this plot against the 
miller’s life. Round about midday a woman suddenly appeared at the 

Page 140 

mill got up as if she were on trial for her life, strangely disfigured and 
woebegone, barely covered in pitiful rags, barefoot, deathly pale and 
drawn, her grizzled hair dishevelled, dirty and sprinkled with ash, 
hanging down in front and hiding most of her face. This apparition 
gently laid hold of the miller and, as if wishing to talk to him in 
private, drew him into his room and shut the door. Nothing was then 
heard for a long time. Meanwhile the instalment of grain which the 
mill-hands had been grinding was finished, and they needed to ask for 
more. The slaves stood by the door and called their master, asking for 
a fresh supply. When they got no response from him to their loud 
and repeated shouts, they began to knock hard on the door; finding it 
tightly barred they feared an accident or foul play, and by breaking 
and dislodging the hinges with a violent heave they finally gained an 
entry. They saw no sign of the woman anywhere, but there was their 
master hanging from a beam, strangled and lifeless. They released him 
from the noose and took him down, and with much weeping and 
lamentation washed the body and performed the last rites, then 
carried him to the grave followed by a long train of mourners. 


The next day the miller’s daughter, who was married and lived in a 
nearby village, arrived in mourning, tearing her disordered hair and 
beating her breast. She already knew the whole story, but not from 
any messenger; her father’s ghost had appeared to her in a dream in 
pitiable guise, with the noose still around his neck, and had told her 
all about her stepmother’s crimes, her adultery and witchcraft, and 
how the evil spirit had possessed him and carried him down to hell. 
For a long time she tortured herself with weeping, but finally, 
restrained by the friends who rallied round her, she allowed her grief 
to subside. When after the canonical nine days the ceremonies at the 
tomb had been duly performed, as heiress to the estate she put 
everything, slaves, plant and animals, up for auction. So Fortune, 
irresponsible as ever, through the unpredictable operation of a sale 
scattered the whole establishment to the four winds. As for me, I was 
bought by a poor market-gardener for fifty sesterces - an awful lot of 
money, as he said, but he hoped that with the two of us on the job he 
could eke out a living for himself. 


At this point the subject demands that I expound the routine of my 
new service. Each morning my master would load me up with 
produce and take me to the nearest town, and having consigned his 
wares to the retailers he would ride home on my back. Then, while 
he slaved away at digging and watering and all his other chores, I 

Page 141 

meanwhile had nothing to do and could recuperate in peace and 
tranquillity. But the stars had now performed their ordained 
revolutions and the year had again come full circle; leaving behind 
autumn and the pleasures of the vintage, it had now entered 
Capricorn with its winter frosts. What with the continual rain and 
the heavy dews at night, I was suffering agonies of cold, confined as I 
was to a stall that was open to the elements. My master was so poor 
that he could not afford bedding of any kind or even the scantiest of 
coverings for himself, let alone for me; he had to be content with 
what shelter his small thatched hut offered. On top of this, morning 
would find me standing barefoot in freezing mud and splinters of ice 
and dying of cold; and I couldn’t even fill my belly with my usual 
food. Dinner was exactly the same for both my master and me, and 
meagre enough it was: nasty old lettuces that had bolted and gone 
bad; they had run to seed and looked like large brooms, and their 
juice was bitter and foul. 


One night a proprietor from a nearby village who had lost his way 
in the dark, there being no moon, and had got soaked in a downpour, 
finding himself benighted and his horse tired out, stopped at our 
place. He received a friendly reception, the best our circumstances 
allowed, and though his entertainment was far from luxurious he at 
least got the rest he needed. Wishing to requite his host’s kindness, 
he promised to give him some corn and olive oil and two jars of wine 
as well from his estate. The very next day my master, armed with a 
sack and two empty wineskins, mounted me bareback, and we set off 
on our journey, a matter of some seven miles. We arrived and found 
the farm as directed, where his amiable host at once sat my master 
down to an excellent dinner. While they were chatting over their 
wine there occurred a truly remarkable portent. One of the flock of 
fowls was running about the barnyard loudly clucking as a hen 
usually does before laying an egg. Seeing her, ‘Faithful and fruitful 
servant!’ said the master. ‘You’ve never failed to supply us with our 
eggs every day, and I can see that you’re proposing to give us a treat 
now. Here, boy,’ he called, ‘put the laying-basket in the usual corner.’ 
The slave did as he was told, but the hen ignored her usual nesting- 
apartment and gave birth right at her master’s feet - a premature 
birth, and a very worrying one: for it was no egg as we know it, but a 
perfectly formed pullet complete with wings, feet, eyes and voice 
which immediately began to follow its mother around. 


On top of this there followed a much more sinister happening, 

Page 142 

which caused general consternation, as well it might. Right there, 
under the table, which still had the remains of dinner on it, a 
yawning gap appeared in the floor which spurted a veritable fountain 
of blood, the spray from which drenched the table in gore. Then, 
while everybody was rooted in astonishment and terror at this 
warning from heaven, a servant ran in from the cellar to announce 
that all the wine which had some time ago been racked off had 
become scalding hot and boiled over out of every cask as if it had a 
blazing fire underneath it. Meanwhile outside the house there had 
been seen a weasel dragging a dead snake along in its mouth; a small 
green frog had jumped out of the mouth of one of the sheepdogs; and 
the same dog had been attacked by a ram that was standing nearby 
and throttled with a single bite. The master and the entire household 
were petrified with fear and thrown into the depths of despair by all 
these events, at a loss to know what to do first and what next, what to 
do and what not to do, which and what sort of victims should be 
sacrificed in expiation to avert these threats from heaven. 


While everyone was still numbed by apprehension and dread, a 
slave arrived bringing his master news of complete and utter disaster. 
He had three grown-up sons, well educated and irreproachably 
behaved, who were his pride and joy. They had for some time been 
friendly with a poor man who owned a small cottage. Bordering on 
this cottage was a large and prosperous estate owned by a powerful 
neighbour. This was a rich young man of noble family, who by 
trading on his proud ancestry had become an influential figure in city 
politics and got his own way in everything. This man declared war on 
his humble neighbour and harried his poor little domain, killing his 
animals, driving off his cattle, and trampling down his young crops. 
Having despoiled him of all his modest fortune, he determined to 
evict him from his land, and by cooking up a spurious lawsuit about 
boundaries he laid claim to his entire property. Unassertive as he 
was, the farmer, stripped of everything by this rich man’s greed, still 
wanted to keep at least his ancestral plot to be buried in, and in great 
fear and trembling had enlisted the aid of a number of friends to 
testify formally as to the boundaries. These included the three 
brothers, who had come to give what help they could to their friend 
in his misfortune. 


So far from being deterred or put out of countenance in the slightest 
by such a crowd of citizens, this madman was no less violent in his 
language than in his acts of brigandage. When they tried to reason 

Page 143 

with him gently and pacify his hot temper with conciliatory words, 
he burst out with a solemn oath by his own life and the life of all 
those dear to him that he did not give a damn for all these mediators, 
and that as for this neighbour of his, his slaves were going to take 
him by the ears and send him packing then and there. This statement 
caused outrage in the minds of all who heard it. One of the brothers 
immediately and now without mincing his words answered that it 
was no use his relying on his wealth to carry off his threats and his 
tyrannical arrogance: under the free protection of the laws even poor 
men were secured against the insolence of the rich. Like oil on 
flames, like sulphur on a blaze, like a whip laid on a Fury, so these 
words fed the man’s savagery. Enraged to outright madness, he 
shouted that all of them and the laws as well could go to hell; and 
ordered his dogs to be loosed and sicked on to attack and kill them. 
These were herdsmen’s dogs from his estate, huge fierce brutes that 
were used to feeding on corpses left lying about the countryside and 
had been trained to savage passing wayfarers indiscriminately. At 
once, their fury kindled by the herdsmen’s usual signal, they rushed 
at the people in a mad frenzy and fell on them with dreadful 
discordant baying, wounding, tearing, and lacerating them all over. 


In the midst of this carnage and the jostling of the panic-stricken 
crowd the youngest brother caught his foot on a stone and fell 
headlong to the ground, so providing the savage pack with an 
atrocious repast; finding him lying there a helpless prey, in a 
moment they were rending him limb from limb. His brothers heard 
his cries of agony, and ran in anguish to his assistance; wrapping 
their cloaks round their left hands they tried to defend him and drive 
off the dogs with a volley of stones. They were, however, powerless 
to frighten or beat off the savage beasts, and the unfortunate young 
man was torn in pieces and died adjuring them with his last breath to 
take vengeance for their younger brother’s death on that rich villain. 
They, not so much in desperation as not caring whether they lived or 
died, rushed blazing with anger at the rich man and attacked him 
with a furious salvo of stones. But the bloodstained assassin, schooled 
in many an earlier outrage of the same kind, hurled his spear and 
transfixed one of them through the chest. But though killed outright, 
the young man did not fall to the ground, for the spear had been 
hurled so violently that it passed right through him and, sticking out 
behind for most of its length, lodged firmly in the ground, leaving his 
body balanced in mid-air. Then one of the slaves, a large hefty fellow, 
came to the aid of his cutthroat master and at long range aimed a 
stone at the third brother’s right arm. The stone, however, 

Page 144 

unexpectedly missed and fell harmlessly after merely grazing his 


This happy accident offered the astute young man a faint hope of 
revenge. Pretending that his hand was disabled he addressed his cruel 
enemy: ‘Very well: exult in the destruction of our whole house, glut 
your insatiable cruelty with the blood of three brothers, triumph 
gloriously over your humiliated fellow citizens-but remember this, 
that though you can strip poor men of their possessions and push 
your boundaries wider still and wider, you will always have a 
neighbour. As for this hand of mine, which should have cut off your 
head, through the injustice of fate it is bruised and useless.’ Angry as 
he was already, these words maddened the ruffian; and sword in hand 
he rushed furiously at the hapless youth to dispatch him. But the 
man he had challenged was no less tough than he, and he met with a 
resistance that he had by no means expected. With a grip of iron the 
young man seized his right hand, and wielding his sword with all his 
strength with blow upon blow he expelled the rich villain’s polluted 
soul from his body. Then, to escape the crowd of retainers who were 
coming at him, he cut his own throat on the spot with the blade that 
still dripped with his enemy’s blood. 

These were the events that the portents had foretold; this was what 
the unfortunate master had been warned of. With these calamities 
thick upon him, the old man could not utter a single word or even 
shed a silent tear. Seizing the knife with which he had just been 
helping his guests to cheese and other eatables, he followed the 
example of his unhappy son and plunged it repeatedly into his 
throat; then collapsing forwards on to the table he washed away the 
bloodstains from the portent in a fresh torrent of blood. 


The gardener was left pitying the plight of this house, thus brought 
low in a matter of hours, but also sadly lamenting his own misfortune 
- tears as the price of his dinner and empty hands which he could 
only wring over and over again. There was nothing to do but mount 
me and go back the way we had come, but even that was not 
accomplished safely. A burly individual, apparently from his dress 
and behaviour a legionary soldier, accosted us and asked in 
overbearing and arrogant language where he was going with that 
unloaded ass? My master, still grieving and bemused, and in any case 
not understanding Latin, was passing on without answering. At this 
the soldier’s natural insolence flared up, and angry at his silence, 

Page 145 

which he took as an insult, he knocked him off my back with a blow 
of the vine-staff which he carried. The gardener humbly answered 
that he didn’t know the language and couldn’t understand what he 
was saying. So in Greek the soldier asked: ‘Where are you taking that 
ass?’ The gardener said he was going to the next town. ‘But I need his 
services,’ said the soldier. ‘He’s wanted to carry my commander’s 
gear from the fort over there with the rest of the baggage-animals’: 
and with that he laid hold of my bridle and began to lead me away. 
The gardener, wiping off the blood that was flowing from the blow 
he had received to the head, begged him, calling him ‘mate’, to 
behave more civilly and kindly, reinforcing his pleas by invoking all 
his hopes of professional success. ‘And in any case,’ he added, ‘it’s a 
useless beast with a vicious disposition, and it’s on its last legs with 
some horrible disease; it has just about enough life and breath in its 
body to carry the odd bundle of vegetables from my garden here 
without collapsing - it’s certainly not fit to bear anything heavier.’ 


However, seeing that the soldier, so far from being mollified by any 
entreaties, was becoming exasperated and looked like doing him a 
mischief, seeing him indeed preparing to reverse his cudgel and brain 
him with the knob, the gardener resorted to desperate measures. 
Pretending that he was going to touch his knees to stir him to pity, 
he crouched down low, then suddenly laying hold of both his feet he 
lifted him high in the air and threw him heavily to the ground; then 
at once he attacked him with his fists, his elbows, his teeth, and even 
with a stone snatched from the road, battering him all over, face, 
hands, and body. The soldier, once stretched on the ground, was 
powerless to fight back or defend himself, but kept on threatening 
that if he once got up he would cut him in little bits with his sword. 
That gave the gardener an idea: he drew the sword himself and threw 
it well away, then resumed his attack, beating him even more 
savagely. The soldier, prostrated and handicapped by his injuries, 
resorted to his only remaining hope of survival and shammed dead. 
Then the gardener took the sword, got on my back, and posted 
straight to town, where, without troubling even to call in at his 
garden, he went to a friend’s house. He told him the whole story and 
begged for help in his peril, asking him to hide the two of us for a 
little while; two or three days’ concealment would allow him to 
escape prosecution on a capital charge. The man was mindful of their 
old friendship and at once took him in. I had my feet tied together 
and was hoisted up a ladder into the loft; the gardener stayed 
downstairs in the shop, where he took refuge in a chest with the lid 
fastened down over him. 

Page 146 


The soldier, however, as I learned later, did in the end recover 
consciousness, with all the symptoms of a severe hangover, and in 
great pain from his wounds and supporting himself with difficulty 
on his stick, made his way with uncertain steps to the town. He was 
too much ashamed of his violent behaviour and the poor show he 
had put up to say anything about the affair to the townspeople, but 
swallowed his resentment until he came across some fellow soldiers, 
to whom he confided the story of his disaster. It was decided that he 
should secrete himself in his quarters for a while - for quite apart 
from his personal humiliation he feared that the loss of his sword 
was a sacrilegious breach of his military oath - while his comrades, 
who had taken careful note of our particulars, should spare no pains 
to track us down and exact vengeance. They soon found a treacherous 
neighbour, who told them exactly where we were hidden. The 
soldiers summoned the magistrates with a yarn that they concocted 
about a valuable silver cup belonging to their commander that they 
had lost on the road and how a certain gardener had found it and 
refused to give it up, and was now hiding in a friend’s house. On 
hearing of the loss and the commander’s name the magistrates 
appeared before the door of the house where we were and loudly 
called on our host to hand us over - ‘we know they’re in there’, they 
shouted - if he wanted to save his own skin. He was not in the least 
frightened but was concerned only to safeguard the friend he had 
sworn to protect: he denied all knowledge of us and said he had not 
set eyes on the gardener for days. The soldiers maintained that he was 
hiding there in that very place, and swore it by the Emperor’s genius. 
At last, as the man persisted in his stubborn denial, the magistrates 
decided to get at the truth by a search. The constables and other 
public officers were accordingly sent in with orders to investigate 
carefully every corner of the house, and they reported that not a soul, 
and certainly no ass, was to be found inside. 


Then the dispute waxed hotter on both sides, the soldiers asserting 
that they knew perfectly well that we were in there and repeatedly 
invoking the name of Caesar, while our host persisted in denying it, 
calling for his part the divine powers to witness. Hearing this noisy 
argument, curious as usual and, like an ass, brash and impatient, I 
angled my neck out of a little window, eager to see what the hubbub 
was all about. It happened that one of the soldiers at that moment 
caught a glimpse of my shadow and called his comrades to look. 
There was a great to-do, and some of them immediately climbed the 

Page 147 

ladder, grabbed me, and hauled me down like a prisoner. There was 
now no hesitation: every nook and cranny was minutely scrutinized, 
the chest was uncovered, and the wretched gardener was pulled out 
and arraigned before the magistrates. He was carried off to the town 
prison, it was assumed to certain execution; while there was much 
merriment and endless jokes on the subject of my peeping out. This 
was the origin of the common proverb about ‘The peeping ass and 
his shadow’. 

Page 14 8 

BOOK 10 

The story of the wicked stepmother - sold again - the 
pastrycook and the chef - caught in the act - Lucius 
the almost human - the noble mistress and the 
ignoble substitute - degraded to make a Corinthian 
noliday - the Judgement of Paris - escape to 

1 What happened next day to my master the gardener I never found 
out. Nobody objected when I was taken off by the soldier whose 
outrageous violence had earned him such a sound thrashing to what I 
took to be his quarters and loaded up with his personal gear. When he 
led me out on to the road I was arrayed in full military panoply: I was 
carrying a brilliantly polished helmet and a shield that was visible for 
miles, plus a spear with a remarkably long point. These arms were 
carefully set out and displayed on the top of the heap of gear in 
proper campaigning style, not of course for genuine military reasons 
but to put the fear of God into unfortunate wayfarers. We came by a 
quite easy road through flat country to a small town, where we put 
up, not at an inn, but at the house of one of the town councillors. The 
soldier handed me over to one of the servants and immediately went 
in accordance with his orders to report to his commanding officer, 
who was in charge of a thousand men. 


A few days later I remember that there was committed in that place 
a particularly wicked and horrible crime: which I write down so that 
you too can read about it. The master of the house had a young son, 
to whom he had given so excellent an education that he was all that a 
dutiful and modest boy ought to be, just such a son as you, dear 
reader, would wish to have yourself. His mother had died years 
before, and the husband had remarried and had another son by his 
second wife, who was now in his thirteenth year. His stepmother, 
who owed the powerful position she occupied in her husband’s 
home more to her looks than her morals, whether because she was 
unchaste by nature or whether it was Fate that impelled her to this 
ultimate infamy, cast lustful eyes on her stepson. And with that, dear 
reader, you know that it’s a tragedy, no mere tale, that you’re 
reading: from the sock we mount the buskin. 

So long as the infant passion was still in the early stages of its 
growth, the woman was easily able to resist Cupid’s as yet feeble 
power and control her blushes in silence. But when the frenzy blazed 

Page 14 9 

up and took entire possession of her, when Love raged and seethed 
unrestrained deep in her breast, then she yielded to the cruel god and, 
pretending to feel ill, passed off the wound in her heart as bodily 
indisposition. As everybody knows, the outward signs and symptoms 
of sickness and lovesickness are identical: a sickly pallor, languid 
eyes, no strength in the legs, sleepless nights, and sighs which grow 
ever deeper as the torment is prolonged. One might have thought 
that it was merely the heat of fever that made her toss and turn, were 
it not that she also wept. ‘Alas, th’ unknowing minds of - doctors!’ 
What do you make of the case, gentlemen? The throbbing pulse, the 
hectic flush, the laboured breathing, the constant tossing from side to 
side in bed? For God’s sake, isn’t the diagnosis obvious to anybody 
who’s taken a course in the school of Venus, even if he doesn’t have a 
medical diploma, when you see somebody on fire without a 

So finally, unable to control the passion which shook her to the 
core, she broke silence and sent for her son - though she would have 
preferred, had it been possible, not to call him by that name, which 
was a reminder of her shame. The boy instantly obeyed his sick 
mother’s command, and, as his duty to his father’s wife and his 
brother’s mother demanded, came to her room wearing a worried 
frown that was older than his years. For a long time in her distress 
and torment she could not utter a word; aground, as it were, on the 
shoals of indecision, every time anything occurred to her that fitted 
the occasion, she would have second thoughts, and with her chastity 
still poised in the balance she hesitated, not knowing how best to 
begin. The boy, who as yet suspected nothing amiss, took the 
initiative and respectfully asked what was the matter with her. They 
were alone together: embracing the fatal opportunity she threw 
caution to the winds, and veiling her face in her robe and weeping 
bitterly she spoke to him briefly in a trembling voice: ‘The cause and 
the source of my pain, but also the only remedy and cure for it - is 
you, you yourself. It is your eyes that have shot through mine to the 
depths of my heart and kindled a fierce blaze in my inmost being. 
Pity then her who is dying because of you, and do not be held back 
by scruples about duty to your father. You will be saving a wife for 
him who would otherwise die. It is his likeness that I see in you: no 
wonder I love you. We are alone, and have nothing to worry about; 
the opportunity is here - you cannot refuse. What nobody knows 
about to all intents and purposes hasn’t happened.’ 

Page 150 

The young man was aghast at this bombshell, but though his first 
reaction to the idea of such a crime was one of horror, he thought it 
better to calm the situation by delaying tactics - diplomatic promises 
rather than an abrupt and outright refusal, which would only 
aggravate matters. So he heaped assurances on her, urging her 
insistently to cheer up and to concentrate on getting well again, and to 
wait until his father had to be away, when they would be free to 
enjoy themselves. Then as soon as he could he removed himself from 
his stepmother’s loathed presence. Thinking that in this dire family 
crisis there was need of expert advice, he went straight to the wise 
and experienced old man who had been his tutor. After much 
deliberation it was decided that the best course was to escape the 
disastrous rage of Fortune by an immediate departure. The wife, 
however, could not endure any delay, however short, and inventing 
some pretext or other with amazing artfulness quickly managed to 
persuade her husband to hurry off to visit some outlying estates. 
With his departure, in a frenzy at the realization of her hopes, she 
immediately demanded that the boy fulfil his promise and gratify her 
lust. He, with one excuse after another, contrived to put off the 
abominable rendezvous, until she realized that all these contradictory 
messages meant that he was clearly not going to keep his promise. At 
this with lightning fickleness her wicked love was transformed to yet 
more wicked hate. She at once enlisted the aid of a villainous slave, 
part of her dowry, a fellow to whom crime had become a way of life, 
and to him she confided her treacherous plans. It was decided that 
the best course was to murder the unfortunate young man. 
Accordingly this villain was sent to obtain a particularly deadly 
poison, and this was carefully mixed with wine and laid by for the 
destruction of her innocent stepson. 

But while these vile creatures were considering when would be the 
best opportunity to administer the drink, it so happened that the 
younger boy, this dreadful woman’s own son, came back home one 
day after his morning lessons, ate his lunch, and felt thirsty. Finding 
the cup of wine with the poison lurking in it, unaware of the danger, 
he drained it at a draught; and having drunk the death that had been 
prepared for his brother, he fell lifeless to the ground. His attendant, 
terrified by the boy’s sudden seizure, set up a piercing outcry which 
brought his mother and the whole household on to the scene. As 
soon as it was realized that the poisoned drink was responsible for 
his death, everybody began to accuse everybody else of this fearful 
crime. However, that she-devil, that unique exemplar of step- 
motherly malignity, so far from being moved by her son’s untimely 

Page 151 

death, or the guilt of murder, or the calamity to their house, or her 
husband’s grief, or the distress of the funeral, was interested only in 
using the family disaster to further her revenge. She immediately 
sent a courier to find her husband and announce to him the ruin of 
his house; and when he returned, which he did at once, she put on a 
breathtakingly bold front and charged her stepson with the crime of 
poisoning her son. This was not totally untrue, in so far as the one 
boy had anticipated the death meant for the other; but she pretended 
that her stepson had made away with his younger brother because 
she had refused to yield to his criminal lust and resisted his attempt 
to rape her. Even these monstrous lies did not satisfy her: she added 
that he had also threatened her with his sword for denouncing his 
crime. The wretched father, reeling from the loss of two sons, was 
tossed to and fro on a stormy sea of suffering. His younger son he had 
to see buried before his eyes, and the elder must inevitably, it 
seemed, be condemned to death for incest and fratricide. On top of 
this, the wife whom he loved all too dearly was all the time, with her 
vocal pretence of heartfelt grief, inciting him to a relentless hatred of 
his own flesh and blood. 

Scarcely was the funeral over and his son buried than the poor old 
man went straight from the pyre, his face still streaming with tears 
and his white hair torn and smeared with ash, to the market-place. 
There, weeping and pleading and embracing the knees of the town 
councillors, ignorant as he was of his wicked wife’s treachery, he set 
himself, with all the passion at his command, to secure his remaining 
son’s destruction. He was, he said, incestuous - he had violated his 
father’s bed; a parricide-he had murdered his brother; an assassin - 
he had threatened to cut his stepmother’s throat. His grief kindled 
such pity and anger, not only in the council but also in the 
townspeople, that they were all for dispensing with the tedious 
formality of a trial, the presentation of the evidence by the 
prosecution, and the carefully rehearsed twists and turns of the 
defence, clamouring for instant public vengeance on this public 
menace by stoning. 

Meanwhile, however, the magistrates became alarmed at the 
possible consequences to themselves if these minor manifestations of 
anger were allowed to develop into riots and the total subversion of 
public order in the city. Some of them therefore reasoned with the 
councillors, while others calmed down the crowd, and got them to 
agree to hold a regular trial in the traditional manner and arrive at a 
verdict and sentence according to law after the allegations on both 

Page 152 

sides had been properly examined. That, they said, was surely 
preferable to condemning a man unheard, in the manner of a savage 
tribe or an irresponsible despot; in a time of peace and tranquillity 
that would set a shocking example and be a blot on the age. 

This sensible advice carried the day, and the herald was at once 
ordered to convene the council. As soon as the members had taken 
their usual seats in order of precedence, the voice of the herald was 
again heard, and the accuser entered. Then the accused was 
summoned and appeared in his turn; and following Athenian legal 
practice as observed in the court of the Areopagus, the herald 
formally reminded the advocates that introductory speeches and 
appeals to pity were not allowed. All this I learned from overhearing 
various conversations. However, the exact words used by the 
prosecutor in urging his case and the precise terms used by the 
defendant in rebuttal, the various speeches and exchanges, all that, 
not having been in court but tied up to my manger, I don’t know and 
am in no position to report to you; what I did reliably learn, I will set 
down in this account. 

Directly the speeches on both sides were over, it was agreed that 
the truth and credibility of the charges in such an important case 
must be established by reliable proofs, not on the basis of mere 
guesswork and suspicions; and that the first priority was to put on 
the stand the slave who was supposed to be the only person who 
knew what had really happened. That gallows-meat was not in the 
slightest degree perturbed either by the uncertain outcome of a trial 
such as this or the sight of the packed court, let alone the 
consciousness of his crime. He launched straight into his totally 
fictitious story, stoutly and repeatedly affirming the truth of what he 
was saying. The young man (so it ran), angry at being rebuffed by his 
stepmother, had enlisted his help; in revenge for that indignity he 
had told him off to murder her son; he had promised a large sum of 
money as the price of his silence; he had threatened him with death 
when he refused to cooperate; he had mixed the poison with his own 
hands and given it to him to administer to his brother; finally, 
suspecting that he was disobeying his orders and holding on to the 
cup of poison as evidence, he had poisoned the boy himself. All this 
the villain trotted out as plausibly as you please, with a show of 
nervousness; and that concluded the trial. 

By now not a single councillor remained impartial; all were agreed 

Page 153 

that the young man was clearly guilty of parricide and deserved to be 
sewn up in the sack. The unanimous votes, every one bearing the 
word ‘Guilty’, were about to be dropped into the bronze urn in 
accordance with immemorial custom - and once that was done, it 
was all up with the defendant; there was no going back, and his life 
was delivered into the hands of the executioner - when there arose a 
senior councillor, a man noted for his integrity and a highly respected 
doctor. He covered the mouth of the urn with his hand to prevent 
any votes being cast prematurely, and addressed the council as 

‘It has been a great satisfaction to me, gentlemen, in the course of a 
long life, to have earned your esteem; and therefore I cannot allow the 
murder - for that is what it amounts to - of a man falsely accused, or 
allow you, who are sworn to reach a just verdict, to be led to perjure 
yourselves by the lies of a despicable slave. Speaking for myself, I 
cannot trample on the reverence I owe the gods or break faith with 
my conscience by giving an untrue verdict. So, learn from me the real 
facts of this case. 


‘This scoundrel came to me not long ago, anxious to purchase an 
instantaneous poison, for which he offered a hundred gold pieces. 
His story was that he needed it for a sick man who was in the 
lingering agony of an incurable illness and wanted desperately to be 
quit of a life that was mere torture. However, I saw through the 
scoundrel’s patter and his clumsy explanations, and had no doubt 
that he was hatching some diabolical crime or other. So I gave him 
his potion all right; but with the possibility of a subsequent inquiry 
in mind I declined to take the money then and there. “Just in case,” I 
said to him, “any of these coins turn out to be counterfeit or below 
standard, let them stay in the bag and seal it with your signet, and 
then later on we can get a banker and have him test them.” He was 
persuaded and sealed up the money; and directly he was called as a 
witness I sent one of my staff post-haste to fetch it from my office 
and bring it to me - and, gentlemen, here it is, and I now show it to 
the court. Let him look at it and acknowledge his seal. How can the 
brother be taxed with the poison, when it was this fellow who 
procured it?’ 


At this the scoundrel was seized with panic: his natural complexion 
became deathly pale and a cold sweat broke out all over him; he 
shuffled his feet back and forth and scratched his head all over; and 

Page 154 

mouthing through half-closed lips he stuttered out a lot of nonsense - 
nobody could reasonably have believed him innocent. Then, 
however, his natural cunning reasserted itself, and he stoutly denied 
everything and persisted in calling the doctor a liar. He, quite apart 
from his juror’s oath, seeing his private honour publicly impugned, 
pressed home his accusations against the scoundrel even more 
vehemently. Finally the magistrates ordered the public officers to 
examine the villain’s hands, on which they found an iron ring, which 
they compared with the seal on the bag; the comparison confirmed 
everybody’s suspicions. The wheel and the rack, as usual in Greece, 
were immediately brought into action, but he held out against 
torture with extraordinary obstinacy, and neither flogging nor even 
the fire made him give in. 

Finally the doctor spoke out: ‘No, I will not allow it, I will not allow 
you to punish this innocent young man and let this fellow escape the 
penalty for his crime and make a mockery of justice. I will give you a 
clear proof of the real state of affairs. When this rascal was so eager 
to buy a deadly poison, I thought it improper for one of my 
profession to provide anybody with the means of death. I had been 
taught that medicine had been invented to save life, not destroy it. 
However, I feared that if I declined to give it to him, I should merely 
be aiding and abetting his crime and do more harm than good by my 
refusal; he would acquire his deadly potion from somebody else or in 
the last resort carry out his abominable plan with a sword or some 
other weapon. So I gave him his “poison”; but it was a soporific 
draught of mandragora, a proven narcotic, as you know, which 
induces a sleep indistinguishable from death. You need not be 
surprised that this desperate villain, knowing that he must suffer the 
extreme penalty of the law as laid down by our ancestral custom, 
braves these tortures as light in comparison. But if what the boy 
drank was really the drink that I compounded, he is alive and 
sleeping peacefully, and soon he will shake off his torpor and return 
to the light of day. If, however, death has claimed him, we must look 
for the cause elsewhere.’ 


The old man’s speech carried conviction, and not a moment was lost 
in hastening to the tomb where the boy’s body had been laid. The 
whole council, all the chief citizens, in fact the entire population, 
converged on the spot, in a fever of curiosity. It was the father 
himself who removed the lid of the coffin with his own hands; and at 
once the boy shook off his deathlike lethargy and sat up, risen from 

Page 155 

the dead. His father gathered him into his arms and embraced him, 
speechless for the moment with joy, and showed him to the people. 
Just as he was, still wrapped in his grave-clothes, the boy was carried 
back to the court. So finally the crimes of the wicked slave and the 
even wickeder stepmother were brought to light, and naked Truth 
came forward for all to see. The woman was sentenced to perpetual 
exile and the slave to crucifixion. All agreed that the good doctor 
should be allowed to keep the gold, as the price of that timely sleep. 
As for the old man, his famous, indeed fabulous, experience ended in 
a way worthy of divine Providence: in a matter of moments, seconds 
indeed, he was rescued from the prospect of total childlessness and 
suddenly found himself the father of two young sons. 


As for me, I was once again launched on my fated voyage. The 
soldier who had bought me from no vendor and paid nothing for me 
received orders from his commanding officer to take a letter to the 
Emperor at Rome, and so sold me to two brothers for eleven denarii. 
These were the slaves of a rich master: one was a pastrycook, who 
produced bread and sweet cakes, the other a chef, who concocted 
savoury dishes seasoned with delicious sauces. They lived together 
and maintained a joint establishment; they had bought me to 
transport the large numbers of containers required for various 
purposes by their master, who travelled about a good deal. So I was 
admitted as a third member of this partnership, and never before or 
since did I find myself so well off. Every evening, after a luxurious 
dinner splendidly served, my masters would take home generous 
portions of the food. The chef brought back large helpings of pork, 
chicken, fish, and all sorts of ragouts; the pastrycook brought rolls, 
biscuits, cakes, fritters and pastries of all shapes and sizes, and 
various sweetmeats. Then when they locked up their quarters and 
went to the baths to refresh themselves, I would gorge myself on this 
heaven-sent banquet; for I was not such a fool or an actual ass as to 
reject this delicious food and make my dinner on rough spiky hay. 


For some time my artful thievery went swimmingly; I was cautious 
and only stole a little from the plenty that was on offer, and they 
never thought of suspecting an ass of pilfering. But as I grew 
confident of avoiding detection I began to wolf down all the 
particularly choice bits and single out the most delicious sweetmeats 
to lick up, and that disturbed the brothers, who became extremely 
suspicious. Though even then they did not connect me with the 
matter, they set out to try to discover who was responsible for this 

Page 156 

daily thieving. In the end they began to tax each other with this 
sordid plundering, and they redoubled their precautions, maintaining 
an even stricter supervision and counting and checking off every 
dish. At last one could no longer contain himself and spoke out: ‘It 
really isn’t fair what you’re doing - it’s no way for a man to behave - 
to make away with the choice bits every day and sell them so as to 
increase your own nest-egg on the sly, and then claim an equal share 
of what’s left. If you’re dissatisfied with our partnership, we can go 
on being brothers in everything else, but give up this sharing 
arrangement. I can see that this dispute about our losses is going to 
get out of hand and provoke a disastrous quarrel between us.’ To this 
his brother replied: ‘I admire your nerve, I really do. Every day 
you’ve been quietly filching all the choice morsels, and now you get 
in ahead of me with the very complaint that I’ve held back all this 
time, suffering in secret because I didn’t want to be seen accusing my 
brother of this squalid thieving. But it’s just as well to thrash it out 
between us and look for a solution together; if we go on bottling up 
our feelings one of us might end up doing an Eteocles.’ 


After more recriminations of this kind, each swore solemnly that he 
was innocent of any deceit or theft; and they agreed that what they 
had to do was discover by fair means or foul the thief who was 
responsible for their common loss. The ass, they reasoned, the only 
other occupant of the premises, could not be attracted by this kind of 
food, but nevertheless the best bits were disappearing every day, and 
it couldn’t be the flies that were invading the place - they would 
have to be as big as the Harpies that used to carry off Phineus’ 
dinner. Meanwhile, on this rich and lavish diet of human food I had 
rounded out and grown fat, my hide had become soft and supple, and 
my coat long and sleek. But my handsome appearance brought about 
shame and confusion for me. The brothers were struck by my 
increased bulk, and noticing that my daily ration of hay was 
untouched, they concentrated their attention on me. One evening 
they locked up the house at the usual time as if they were going to 
the baths, and then, looking through a small crack in the wall they 
saw me tucking in to the array of eatables. They were no longer 
bothered about their loss, only lost in wonder at this unnatural 
gourmandise on the part of an ass; roaring with laughter they called 
their fellow slaves one by one until there was a whole crowd of them 
there, and showed them this unheard-of vagary of appetite in a brute 
beast of burden. 

Their laughter was so loud and hearty that it came to their master’s 

Page 157 


ears as he was passing. He asked what they all found so comical; and 
when he was told he looked through the hole himself. He was highly 
amused and in fact laughed so much that he got a pain in his inside. 
He then had the door opened and came in to observe at close 
quarters. Seeing that Fortune was at last relenting to some degree and 
smiling on me, and reassured by the general hilarity, I was not in the 
least put out but went on eating at my ease. In the end the master was 
so pleased by this unusual spectacle that he ordered me to be brought 
into the house, indeed he conducted me into the dining-room 
himself, and had the table set out and laid with every kind of eatable 
and dish, all whole and intact. Though I was already pretty full, I 
wanted to play up to him and get into his good books, and so I fell to 
greedily on the assembled delicacies. They had taken great pains to 
work out what an ass would find most uncongenial, in order to see 
how domesticated I really was; so they served me meat seasoned with 
silphium, capons liberally peppered, and fish swimming in exotic 
sauces. All the while the whole company were in fits of laughter. 
Then said a wag who was present: ‘Give our friend here some wine - 
neat.’ The master took him up: ‘Not such a bad idea of yours, you 
rascal,’ he said. ‘It’s quite possible that our guest would like a cup of 
honey-wine with his dinner’, and turning to a slave, ‘You there, wash 
out that gold bowl carefully, mix and fill it, and offer it to my guest - 
and when you do so, tip him the wink that I’ve drunk his health.’ 
The other guests were all agog. I was not in the slightest degree 
abashed, but quite at my ease and in convivial style I shaped the ends 
of my lips into a ladle and drank off the whole of this large bowl at a 
draught. This was greeted with 


a shout as all present with one voice wished me good health. The 
master was highly delighted, and calling in the slaves who had bought 
me ordered them to be given four times what they had paid; and he 
handed me over to his confidential freedman, a person of some 
substance, with orders to look after me well. 

This man treated me with great humanity and kindness, and to 
ingratiate himself with his patron, he took great pains to entertain 
him with my clever tricks. First he taught me to recline at table on 
my elbow, then to wrestle and even to dance on my hind legs, and 
what was thought most extraordinary, to answer when spoken to, by 
nodding upwards for ‘no’ and downwards for ‘yes’; and when I was 
thirsty to look at the wine-waiter and ask for drink by opening and 
shutting my eyes. I had no trouble in learning my lessons, for of 

Page 15 8 

course I could have done all these things without being shown. 
However, I was afraid that if I behaved untaught in too human a 
fashion, they would think this a sinister omen and kill me and 
consign me to the vultures to feast on as a monster and a prodigy. 
Meanwhile the news got around, and my master had become a public 
figure on account of my wonderful performances. Everybody had 
heard of him as the man who had an ass as boon companion, an ass 
that could wrestle and dance and understand human speech and 
express himself by nodding. 


But first I should do what I ought to have done in the first place and 
tell you now who my master was and where he was from. His name 
was Thiasus and he came from Corinth, the capital of the province of 
Achaea. As one would expect of a man of his birth and rank, he had 
passed through the different grades of office to the quinquennial 
magistracy; and to honour the occasion in a suitably brilliant manner 
and by way of displaying his munificence to the full he had 
undertaken to provide a three-day gladiatorial show. So eager indeed 
was he for popularity that he had been as far afield as Thessaly to 
procure wild beasts and celebrated gladiators, and now that he had 
acquired and arranged all he needed he was preparing to return to 
Corinth. His luxurious carriages and splendid covered and uncovered 
wagons were left to trail along ignominiously at the rear of the 
procession, as were his Thessalian horses and Gaulish ponies and the 
rest of his expensive bloodstock. It was I whom he bestrode - I, 
tricked out in golden ornaments and richly dyed saddle-cloths and 
purple housings and silver reins and embroidered girths and sweetly 
chiming bells - all the time addressing me in terms of affectionate 
endearment and declaring that what pleased him most of all was that 
in me he had both a companion and a conveyance. 


When, after a journey partly on land and partly by sea, we reached 
Corinth, great crowds of citizens turned out, not so much, it seemed, 
in honour of Thiasus as because they were dying to have a look at 
me. In fact I had become so famous in those parts also that my 
keeper did extremely well out of me. Seeing the numbers of those 
who could not contain their eagerness to watch my performances, he 
barred the doors and only let them in one at a time, and the tips that 
he took every day added up to a tidy sum. 

There was in that select company a certain noble and wealthy lady 
who like everybody else paid to see me and was delighted by all my 

Page 159 

various antics. Gradually her continued admiration of me changed to 
an extraordinary passion for me. For this unnatural lust the only 
remedy she could devise was to play Pasiphae, this time with an ass 
for lover. Her whole heart thus set on enjoying my embraces, she 
finally offered my keeper a large fee for one night with me. He, not in 
the least worried about whether the affair would turn out agreeably 
for me, but only happy at the prospect of profit for himself, agreed. 


So having dined we left the master’s table and found the lady in my 
apartment, where she had been waiting for some time. Ye gods, what 
splendid preparations she had made! Four eunuchs busied 
themselves in making a bed for us on the ground with a heap of 
pillows puffed up airily with the finest down, over which they 
carefully draped a coverlet embroidered with gold and dyed with 
Tyrian purple; and on top of all they scattered an ample supply of 
smaller pillows, dainty affairs such as those on which elegant ladies 
are accustomed to rest their heads. Then, without delaying their 
mistress’s pleasure by lingering any longer, they withdrew and shut 
the door, leaving the room brilliantly lit by candles whose flames 
illuminated the darkness for us. 


Now the lady removed every stitch of clothing, even the band 
confining her beautiful breasts, and standing by one of the lamps she 
anointed herself with quantities of balsam from a pewter vessel, 
which she also rubbed generously over me, paying special attention 
to my nostrils. Next she kissed me lovingly, not the sort of kisses that 
pass current in the brothel, those of whores eager to extract money 
or clients as eager to withhold it; hers were the real thing and 
heartfelt, as were her endearments - ‘I love you’, ‘I want you’, ‘You’re 
the only one I love’, ‘I can’t live without you’, and all the other things 
women say to excite men and prove how much they care for them. 
Then she took hold of my halter and got me to lie down in the way I 
had learned. That was a simple matter: what I had to do presented 
itself to me as neither novel nor difficult, especially when after all 
this time I was about to go to bed with so beautiful and so willing a 
mistress. Moreover I had drunk copiously of the wine, which was 
extremely fine, and the sweet ointment had also aroused my desire. 


No, what worried me a great deal as I thought about it was this - 
how was I, with my four clumsy legs, to mount this exquisite lady? 
How could I embrace her soft white body, all milk and honey, with 

Page 160 

my horny hooves? How could I kiss those delicate red lips, fragrant 
as ambrosia, with my great ugly mouth and its teeth like a row of 
rocks? And how - and this was what really troubled me - though I 
was on fire to get started, every inch of me - how was she going to 
cope with my immense organ? I was already mourning for myself: 
thrown to the beasts as an item in my master’s games for splitting a 
patrician lady in two! Meanwhile she went on murmuring 
endearments and kissing me repeatedly and moaning tenderly and 
fluttering her eyelids seductively, and then finally, ‘I have you,’ she 
cried, ‘I have you, my dove, my sparrow’, and with that she showed 
how empty and foolish my worries and fears had been. For holding 
me tightly embraced she welcomed me in - all of me, and I mean all. 
Every time I pulled myself back in an effort to go easy on her, she 
would thrust violently forward in her frenzy, and grasping my back 
would cling to me even more closely. I really believed that I might 
prove inadequate to satisfy her desires; and I could quite see how the 
mother of the Minotaur had found so much pleasure with a lowing 
lover. After a sleepless and laborious night she left me while it was 
still dark to avoid detection, having first agreed to pay the same price 
for another night. 


My keeper was more than happy to allow her to enjoy me as often 
as she wanted, partly because he was making a very good thing out of 
it, and partly because here was a way of providing his master with a 
fresh spectacle. He therefore lost no time in letting him into the 
secret of our erotic performances. The master rewarded his freedman 
liberally and decided to make a public exhibition of me. Since, 
however, my noble ‘wife’ was ineligible because of her rank, and 
nobody else could be found to take her place at any price, he brought 
in a degraded creature whom the governor had condemned to the 
beasts to prostitute her virtue with me in front of the people - this, 
he reckoned, was sure to pack the theatre. I found out why she had 
been condemned; the story was as follows. 

Her husband’s father, having to be away on a journey, left 
instructions with his wife, her mother-in-law, who was pregnant, 
that if the child turned out to be a member of the weaker sex, it 
should be put to death at birth. While he was away a girl was born; 
but mother-love was too strong for her, and disobeying her husband’s 
orders she entrusted the child to neighbours to bring up. On his 
return she told him that it was a daughter and had been duly put to 
death. Meanwhile the girl grew up to be of marriageable age, but as 
she could not be given a dowry suitable to her rank without her 

Page 161 

father’s knowledge, the wife did the only thing she could and 
revealed the secret to her son. There was also the fear, which worried 
her greatly, that by some mischance he might be carried away by the 
warmth of a young man’s feelings and become involved with the girl, 
neither of them realizing that they were brother and sister. The 
young man, a model son and brother, behaved with scrupulous and 
dutiful respect towards both his mother and his sister. He consigned 
these family secrets to the safekeeping of religious silence, and passed 
off what he proceeded to do as an act of mere common decency, 
fulfilling his duty to his kin by taking his sister under his protection 
and receiving her into his house simply as a girl from the neighbour- 
hood who had no family or parents to protect her. His next move 
was to marry her to a close friend to whom he was deeply attached, 
giving her a generous dowry from his own resources. 


Admirable and entirely innocent as these arrangements were, they 
could not escape the deadly malevolence of Fortune, and at her 
prompting there came to the young man’s house cruel Jealousy. At 
once his wife, the woman condemned to the beasts because of this 
business, began first to suspect the girl as a rival who would supplant 
her in her husband’s bed, then to hate her, and finally to lay a cruel 
and murderous trap for her. This was what she devised. 

She surreptitiously possessed herself of her husband’s ring and 
went to one of his country houses. From there she sent a slave who 
was as loyal to her as he was disloyal to Loyalty herself, with a 
message to the girl that the young man was at the place and wanted 
her to join him, adding that she was to come quite alone and as 
quickly as she could. In case the girl should hesitate about coming, 
she gave him the stolen ring to show her as authenticating the 
message. In obedience to her brother’s orders (as she but nobody else 
knew him to be) and the sight of the ring, the girl at once did exactly 
as she was told and came unaccompanied as fast as she could. But 
directly the horrible trap closed on her and she was enmeshed in the 
snare, this admirable wife, goaded to inhuman frenzy by lustful fury, 
had her husband’s sister stripped naked and flogged her to within an 
inch of her life; then, though the girl kept crying out, what was the 
truth, that there was no reason for her to be angry, that there had 
been no adultery, that he was her brother, her brother - the woman 
called her a liar who had made all this up, and thrusting a white-hot 
firebrand between her thighs put her to a most cruel death. 


Page 162 

At the news of the girl’s grievous death her brother and husband 
came in haste and buried her with much mourning and lamentation. 
The brother could not come to terms with his sister’s death, so 
pitiful and so little deserved; shaken to the core by grief and 
possessed by destructive passions, in his anger and melancholy he 
burned with a raging fever, so that he himself was clearly in need of 
medical help. His wife - though she had long ago forfeited her right 
to that name along with her honour - consulted a doctor, a notorious 
rascal with many victorious battles and many notable trophies of his 
prowess to his credit. She offered him fifty thousand sesterces if he 
would sell her an instant poison, thus enabling her to purchase her 
husband’s death. This was agreed; what he made up purported to be 
a famous specific, one scholars call the Life giver, for calming 
internal disorders and eliminating bile. Instead what was 
administered was rather a Lifetaker. So, with the family and a 
number of friends and relatives all gathered around, the doctor 
carefully mixed the draught and was about to offer it to the sick man. 


At this point, however, the shameless woman, thinking at once to 
eliminate her accomplice and save the money she had promised, laid 
hold of the cup before them all. ‘Dear doctor,’ she said, ‘you shall not 
give this medicine to my dearest husband until you yourself have 
drunk a good half of it. How do I know that there isn’t a deadly 
poison lurking in it? I know that a sensible professional man like 
yourself won’t be offended by this expression of a devoted wife’s care 
for her husband’s health and the duty she must feel towards him.’ 
Such an unexpected and outrageous ploy by this monstrous creature 
took the doctor totally by surprise. All his ideas deserted him, and 
there was no time for him to reflect; so at once, before any sign of 
agitation or hesitation could betray his guilty conscience, he took a 
deep draught of the medicine. Thus reassured, the young man took 
the cup from him and emptied it. His business done, the doctor was 
impatient to get home at top speed, in a hurry to cancel the deadly 
effect of the poison he had swallowed with an antidote. The 
audacious woman, however, would not be deflected from the wicked 
course on which she had embarked and forbade him to stir from her 
side, ‘until,’ she said, ‘the medicine has been digested and we see its 
effects.’ In the end, however, she allowed him to wear her down by 
his repeated pleas and entreaties and was reluctantly prevailed on to 
let him go. But all this time the hidden plague had been raging 
throughout his vitals and had penetrated to his very marrow; 
desperately ill and already sunk deep in a deathly torpor he barely got 
himself home. There he just managed to tell his wife the whole story 

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and charge her at least to demand the agreed price for two deaths, not 
one, before in a violent paroxysm this ornament to his profession 
gave up the ghost. 


The young man had maintained his grip on life no longer than the 
doctor, but expired in the same manner amid the feigned tears and 
pretended lamentations of his wife. After his funeral and the interval 
of a few days in which the last respects are paid to the dead, the 
doctor’s widow appeared to claim payment for the two deaths. The 
woman, true to herself, dissembling her evil purposes under a show 
of good faith, answered her pleasantly with a whole series of 
promises, and undertook to pay the stipulated price directly - all she 
asked was a little more of the potion to finish off what she had 
begun. In short, the widow fell into her wicked trap and readily 
agreed, immediately fetching the entire stock of the poison and 
handing it over to the woman. She, being now furnished with ample 
materials for criminality, proceeded to stretch her bloodstained 
hands far and wide. 


She had a small daughter by her murdered husband. This child was 
by law her father’s heir, a fact that the woman bitterly resented; avid 
to take the whole of her daughter’s inheritance she planned to take 
her life as well. Knowing that a mother stood to inherit from a child 
prematurely deceased, she showed herself just such a parent as she 
had been a wife. At a dinner specially arranged for the occasion she 
poisoned at one stroke both the doctor’s widow and her own 
daughter. The little girl’s weak chest and delicate stomach 
succumbed at once to the deadly poison; the widow, feeling the 
noxious effects of the abominable draught spreading through her 
lungs like a hurricane, began to suspect the truth. Then, as she 
started to suffocate, she knew for certain, and made her way at speed 
to the house of the governor of the province, where with loud cries 
she invoked his protection, causing a noisy crowd to gather. On 
hearing of the dreadful crimes that she had come to reveal, the 
governor at once let her in and listened to her story. She told it all 
from the beginning of the cruel wife’s atrocities; and then she fainted, 
overcome by a sudden vertigo, and tightly closing her half-open lips 
and grinding her teeth she let out a prolonged groan and fell dead at 
the governor’s feet. An experienced administrator who did not let the 
grass grow under his feet, he lost no time in dealing with this 
fiendish poisoner’s long series of crimes. He at once had the woman’s 
personal attendants arrested and got the truth out of them under 

Page 164 

torture. The woman herself he sentenced to be thrown to the beasts - 
a better fate than she deserved, but nobody could devise a more 
suitable punishment for her. 


This then was the woman with whom I was to be publicly joined in 
holy matrimony. It was with feelings of deep distress and painful 
anticipation that I looked forward to the day of the games. More than 
once I was minded to do away with myself rather than be defiled by 
contact with this wicked woman and be put to shame and disgraced 
by being made a public spectacle. However, lacking as I did hands 
and fingers, I could find no way with my stubby rounded hooves of 
drawing a sword. My one consolation and ray of hope - slender 
enough - in my desperate plight was that spring had come once 
more. Everywhere there was colour: flowers were in bud, the 
meadows were putting on their bright summer garments, and roses 
were just beginning to break out of their thorny coverings and diffuse 
their fragrant scent - the roses which could make me once again the 
Lucius I had been. 

Now the day of the games had arrived, and I was led to the theatre 
in ceremonial procession, escorted by crowds of people. While the 
show was being formally inaugurated by a troupe of professional 
dancers, I was left for a while outside the gate, where I had the 
pleasure of cropping the lush grass which was growing in the 
entrance. At the same time, as the gates were left open, I was able to 
feast my eyes on the very pretty sight inside. 

First I saw boys and girls in the very flower of their youth, 
handsome and beautifully dressed, expressive in their movements, 
who were grouping themselves to perform a pyrrhic dance in Greek 
style. In the graceful mazes of their ballet they now danced in a circle, 
now joined hands in a straight line, now formed a hollow square, now 
divided into semi-choruses. Then a trumpet-call signalled an end to 
their complicated manoeuvres and symmetrical interweavings, the 
curtain was raised and the screens folded back to reveal the stage. 


There was a hill of wood in the shape of that famous mount Ida 
sung by the poet Homer. It was a lofty structure, planted with shrubs 
and living trees, and on its summit the architect had contrived a 
spring from which a stream flowed down. Some goats were browsing 
on the grass; and a young man got up as the Phrygian shepherd Paris 
in a handsome tunic, draped in a mantle of oriental style, with a 
golden tiara on his head, was playing herdsman. To him there entered 

Page 165 

an extremely pretty boy, naked except for a cloak such as teenage 
boys wear over his left shoulder. From his blond hair, a striking 
sight, there projected a matching pair of little golden wings; the wand 
he carried identified him as Mercury. He danced forward and 
extended to the actor who represented Paris an apple plated with 
gold which he was carrying in his right hand, while with a nod he 
conveyed Jupiter’s orders; then he gracefully retired and left the 
stage. Next there appeared a handsome girl representing Juno, with a 
shining diadem on her head and carrying a sceptre. She was followed 
by another girl, who could only be Minerva; she wore on her head a 
gleaming helmet with a wreath of olive round it and held aloft a 
shield and brandished a spear, just as she appears in battle. 


After them there entered a third girl, the loveliest of the three, 
proclaimed as Venus by her ravishing ambrosial complexion, Venus 
as she was when still a virgin. She was completely naked, showing off 
her beauty in all its perfection, except for a wisp of thin silk that 
covered her pretty secrets. This little bit of material, however, the 
prurient wind in its amorous play now wafted aside to reveal the 
blossom of her youth and now skittishly flattened against her to cling 
closely and outline every detail of her voluptuous figure. The white 
colour of the goddess’s skin, symbolizing her descent from heaven, 
contrasted with the blue of her dress, recalling her connection with 
the sea. 

Each of the girls enacting the goddesses had a supporting escort. 
Juno was attended by actors impersonating Castor and Pollux, 
wearing egg-shaped helmets with a star for crest. This actress with 
restrained and natural gestures performed a dignified piece of 
miming, moving to an accompaniment of airs on the Ionian pipe, in 
which she promised to confer on the shepherd, if he adjudged the 
prize of beauty to her, dominion over Asia. The girl whose warlike 
get-up had made a Minerva of her was flanked by two boys, the 
armed attendants of the goddess of battles, Terror and Fear, leaping 
about with naked swords. Behind them a Dorian piper sounded a 
martial strain, alternating bass notes with strident trumpet-like tones 
to stimulate their brisk and vigorous dancing. This goddess, tossing 
her head and glaring threateningly, with rapid and complicated 
gestures indicated vividly to Paris that if he awarded her the victory 
in the beauty contest, he would with her aid be a great warrior with 
a glorious roll of battle-honours. 


Page 166 

But now Venus, to immense applause from the audience, took 
centre stage. Surrounded by a throng of happy little boys, she stood 
sweetly smiling, an enchanting sight. These chubby children with 
their milk-white skin were for all the world like real Cupids just 
flown in from the sky or the ocean. Their little wings and their little 
bows and arrows and the rest of their costume made the resemblance 
perfect; and as if their mistress was on her way to a wedding- 
breakfast they lighted her footsteps with flaming torches. Next there 
entered a crowd of pretty unmarried girls, on this side the 
gracefullest of Graces, on that the loveliest of Hours, strewing 
garlands and flowers in honour of their goddess and in the intricacies 
of their artful dance essaying to delight the queen of heaven with all 
the rich bounty of the spring. Now the pipes breathed sweet Lydian 
harmonies; and while these were seducing the hearts of the 
spectators, Venus, even more seductive, began to dance. Advancing 
with slow and deliberate steps, her supple figure gently swaying and 
her head moving slightly in time to the music, she responded to the 
languishing melody of the pipes with elegant gestures. Now her eyes 
fluttered provocatively, now they flashed sharp menaces, and at 
times she danced only with them. As soon as she appeared before the 
judge it was plain from the movement of her hands that she was 
promising that, if she were preferred to the other goddesses, she 
would give Paris a wife of pre-eminent loveliness matching her own. 
At this the Phrygian youth readily handed the girl the golden apple 
he was holding as the token of her victory. 


Now, you sweepings of humanity, you beasts of the bar, you 
gowned vultures, do you wonder that nowadays all judges and juries 
put their verdicts up for sale, when in the very dawn of time, in a 
suit between gods and men, the course of justice was perverted by 
corruption and subornation? When a judge chosen by the wisdom of 
great Jupiter, a rustic shepherd-boy, sold the first judicial decision in 
history to gratify his lust and destroyed his whole race into the 
bargain? Yes, and there was that later case between the two famous 
Greek generals, when the wise and learned Palamedes was falsely 
accused of treason and condemned to death and Ulysses was preferred 
to Ajax, greatest and most valiant of warriors. And what about that 
verdict that was returned by the Athenians, those acute lawgivers 
with their encyclopedic learning? An old man of godlike 
understanding, whom the Delphic oracle had pronounced the wisest 
of all human beings, ensnared by the malignant envy of a vile faction 
on the charge of corrupting the young, whom he had always curbed 
and restrained, was put to death by the deadly juice of a poisonous 

Page 167 

weed, leaving his fellow countrymen bearing the stigma of perpetual 
shame -when now, all those years later, distinguished philosophers 
embrace his doctrines as holy writ and in their devoted pursuit of 
happiness swear by his name. But I have allowed myself to be carried 
away by my indignation, and my readers may be objecting - ‘Do we 
now have to put up with an ass playing the philosopher?’ So I will 
come back to where I digressed in my story. 


The Judgement of Paris being over, Juno and Minerva left the stage, 
looking glum and angry and expressing by their gestures their 
indignation at losing; while Venus, happy and smiling, manifested 
her delight in a dance with the whole troupe. Then at the top of the 
mountain there burst forth from a hidden jet a shower of wine mixed 
with saffron, which rose high in the air and then drifted down over 
the browsing goats and drenched them in its sweet-smelling spray, so 
that beautified by this variegation they changed from their usual 
white colour to saffron yellow. Then the wooden mountain was 
swallowed up and disappeared into the ground, leaving the whole 
theatre perfumed with the sweet fragrance. 

Now, in response to the demands of the crowd, a soldier came out 
and along the street to fetch the woman who, as I said, had for her 
series of crimes been condemned to the beasts and was to partner me 
in these brilliant nuptials of ours. Already what was to be our marital 
bed was being lovingly made up, an affair of polished Indian 
tortoiseshell, heaped high with cushions stuffed with down and 
bright with silken coverlets. Apart from the shame of having to do 
this act in public, and apart from the pollution of contact with this 
loathsome and detestable woman, I was in acute and grievous fear for 
my life. For I thought: there we should be, locked together in a loving 
embrace, and whatever animal was let loose to devour the woman 
was hardly likely to be so discriminating or well trained or so firmly 
in control of its appetites as to tear to pieces the woman at my side 
and spare me as the uncondemned and innocent party. 


It was therefore no longer my honour but my life about which I was 
concerned. My master was fully occupied in seeing that the bed was 
properly set up, and the slaves were all either engaged in looking 
after the animals or lost in admiring enjoyment of the spectacle. That 
left me free to come to a decision. Nobody thought that much of a 
watch need be kept on so docile an ass; so I began to move step by 
step towards the nearest door, then once outside I took off at my 

Page 168 

fastest gallop and kept it up for six whole miles, until I arrived at 
Cenchreae. This town belongs to the famous colony of Corinth and 
lies beside the Aegean sea, on the Saronic gulf. It is a very safe 
harbour for shipping and has a large population. I steered clear of the 
crowds and found a secluded spot on the shore; and there in a soft 
sandy hollow near the breaking waves I stretched out and rested my 
weary limbs. By now the sun’s chariot had covered the last leg of its 
course, and surrendering myself to the evening hush I was overcome 
by sweet sleep. 

Page 169 

BOOK 11 

Vision on the seashore - appeal to Isis - the goddess 
appears and promises rescue - her festival - Lucius 
himself again - devotes himself to the goddess's 
service - initiated - goes to Rome - two further 
initiations - promisea a distinguished future as an 
advocate and admitted to office in an ancient priestly 
college by Osiris himself- nappy at last 

1 It was not yet midnight when I awoke with a sudden start to see the 
full moon just rising from the sea-waves and shining with unusual 
brilliance. Now, in the silent secrecy of night, was my opportunity. 
Knowing that this greatest of goddesses was supremely powerful; that 
all human life was ruled by her Providence; that not only all animals, 
both tame and wild, but even lifeless things were animated by the 
divine power of her light and might; that as she waxed and waned, so 
in sympathy and obedience every creature on earth or in the heavens 
or in the sea was increased or diminished; and seeing that Fate was 
now seemingly satiated with my long tale of suffering and was 
offering me a hope, however late in the day, of rescue: I decided to 
beg for mercy from the awesome manifestation of the goddess that I 
now beheld. At once, shaking off my sluggish repose, I jumped up 
happily and briskly, and eager to purify myself I plunged into the sea. 
Seven times I immersed my head, since that is the number which the 
godlike Pythagoras has told us is most appropriate in religious 
rituals, and then weeping I uttered my silent prayer to the all- 
powerful goddess. 


‘Queen of heaven, whether you are Ceres, nurturing mother and 
creatrix of crops, who in your joy at finding your daughter again set 
aside the ancient acorn, fodder for wild beasts, and taught man the 
use of civilized food, and now fructify the ploughlands of Eleusis; or 
whether you are Venus Urania, who in the first beginnings of the 
world by giving birth to Love brought together the opposite sexes 
and so with never-ending regeneration perpetuated the human race, 
and now are worshipped in the sanctuary of sea-girt Paphos; or 
whether you are Phoebus’ sister, who by relieving women in labour 
with your soothing remedies have raised up many peoples, and now 
are venerated in your shrine at Ephesus; or whether you are 
Proserpine of the fearful night-howling and triple countenance, you 
who hold back the attacks of ghosts and control the gates of hell, who 
pass at will among the sacred groves and are propitiated with many 

Page 170 

different rites; you who brighten cities everywhere with your female 
light and nourish the fertile seeds with your moist warmth and 
dispense according to the motions of the Sun an ever-changing 
radiance; by whatever name, in whatever manner, in whatever guise 
it is permitted to call on you: do you now at last help me in this 
extremity of tribulation, do you rebuild the wreck of my fortunes, do 
you grant peace and respite from the cruel misfortunes that I have 
endured: let there be an end of toils, an end of perils. Banish this 
loathsome animal shape, return me to the sight of my friends and 
family, restore Lucius to himself; or if I have offended some power 
that still pursues me with its savagery and will not be appeased, then 
at last let me die if I may not live.’ 

Such were the prayers that I poured forth, accompanied with 
pitiful lamentations; then sleep once more enveloped my fainting 
senses and overcame me in the same resting-place as before. I had 
scarcely closed my eyes when out of the sea there emerged the head 
of the goddess, turning on me that face revered even by the gods; then 
her radiant likeness seemed by degrees to take shape in its entirety 
and stand, shaking off the brine, before my eyes. Let me try to convey 
to you too the wonderful sight that she presented, that is if the 
poverty of human language will afford me the means of doing so or 
the goddess herself will furnish me with a superabundance of 
expressive eloquence. 

First her hair: long, abundant, and gently curling, it fell caressingly 
in spreading waves over her divine neck and shoulders. Her head was 
crowned with a diadem variegated with many different flowers; in its 
centre, above her forehead, a disc like a mirror or rather an image of 
the moon shone with a white radiance. This was flanked on either 
side by a viper rising sinuously erect; and over all was a wreath of 
ears of corn. Her dress was of all colours, woven of the finest linen, 
now brilliant white, now saffron yellow, now a flaming rose-red. But 
what above all made me stare and stare again was her mantle. This 
was jet-black and shone with a dark resplendence; it passed right 
round her, under her right arm and up to her left shoulder, where it 
was bunched and hung down in a series of many 

folds to the tasselled fringes of its gracefully waving hem. Along its 
embroidered border and all over its surface shone a scattered pattern 
of stars, and in the middle of them the full moon radiated flames of 
fire. Around the circumference of this splendid garment there ran one 

Page 171 

continuous garland all made up of flowers and fruits. Quite different 
were the symbols that she held. In her right hand was a bronze 
sistrum, a narrow strip of metal curved back on itself like a sword- 
belt and pierced by a number of thin rods, which when shaken in 
triple time gave off a rattling sound. From her left hand hung a gold 
pitcher, the upper part of its handle in the form of a rampant asp 
with head held aloft and neck puffed out. Her ambrosial feet were 
shod with sandals woven from palm-leaves, the sign of victory. In 
this awesome shape the goddess, wafting over me all the blessed 
perfumes of Arabia, deigned to answer me in her own voice. 


‘I come, Lucius, moved by your entreaties: I, mother of the 
universe, mistress of all the elements, first-born of the ages, highest 
of the gods, queen of the shades, first of those who dwell in heaven, 
representing in one shape all gods and goddesses. My will controls the 
shining heights of heaven, the health-giving sea-winds, and the 
mournful silences of hell; the entire world worships my single 
godhead in a thousand shapes, with divers rites, and under many a 
different name. The Phrygians, first-born of mankind, call me the 
Pessinuntian Mother of the gods; the native Athenians the Cecropian 
Minerva; the island-dwelling Cypriots Paphian Venus; the archer 
Cretans Dictynnan Diana; the triple-tongued Sicilians Stygian 
Proserpine; the ancient Eleusinians Actaean Ceres; some call me 
Juno, some Bellona, others Hecate, others Rhamnusia; but both races 
of Ethiopians, those on whom the rising and those on whom the 
setting sun shines, and the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning, 
honour me with the worship which is truly mine and call me by my 
true name: Queen Isis. I am here in pity for your misfortunes, I am 
here with favour and goodwill. Cease now your weeping, put an end 
to your lamentation, banish your grief: now by my Providence the 
day of your release is dawning. Attend therefore with your whole 
mind to the orders I give you. 

‘The day which will be born of this night has been consecrated to 
me by immemorial religious usage. It is the day on which the 
tempests of winter have abated and the stormy sea-waves have 
subsided, when the ocean is again navigable and my priests sacrifice 
a brand-new ship as the first-offering of the season’s trade. It is this 
ceremony that you must await without anxiety and without unholy 

thoughts. My priest has been warned by me; he will be carrying in 
his right hand as part of his processional equipment a sistrum 

Page 172 

wreathed with a garland of roses. You must not hesitate, but make 
your way briskly through the crowd and join the procession, relying 
on my goodwill. Approach the priest and, as if kissing his hand, 
gently take a bite of the roses, and in a moment you will divest 
yourself of the hide of this vile beast that has always been so hateful 
to me. Do not fear that anything I tell you to do will be difficult. At 
the very moment that I am appearing to you, I am also present to my 
priest while he sleeps, telling him what must be done next. At my 
orders the serried ranks of the crowd will give you passage, and amid 
the joyful ceremonies and festive spectacles no one will be repelled by 
that ugly appearance you wear or put a sinister construction on your 
sudden change of shape and make spiteful accusations against you. 

‘But this you must remember well and keep forever stored up in 
your inmost heart: the remaining course of your life right up until 
your last breath is now solemnly promised to me. It is only just that 
you should make over all the rest of your time on earth to her by 
whose beneficence you will be made human again. And you will live 
happily, you will live gloriously under my protection; and when you 
have completed your lifespan and descend to the shades, there also in 
that subterranean hemisphere I, whom you now behold, shall be 
there, shining amidst the darkness of Acheron and reigning in the 
secret depths of Styx, and you shall dwell in the Elysian Fields and 
constantly worship me and be favoured by me. But if by diligent 
observance and pious service and steadfast chastity you shall have 
deserved well of my godhead, know that I alone also have the power 
to prolong your life beyond the bounds fixed for you by your Fate.’ 

The awesome prophecy was ended, and the invincible goddess 
withdrew into herself. I at once awoke from sleep and arose with 
mixed feelings of fear and joy, followed by a mighty sweat. Greatly 
wondering at the way in which the powerful goddess had manifested 
herself to my sight, I bathed in the sea and, attentive to her august 
commands, began to con over her instructions point by point. As 
soon as the golden sun arose to dispel the dark clouds of night, all the 
streets were immediately filled with bustling crowds. There was a 
feeling of holy exhilaration in the air; quite apart from my private 
happiness, everything seemed to me so gay and cheerful that I felt 
that even the various animals, the houses, the day itself, wore an air 
of serene enjoyment. Yesterday’s frost had been swiftly followed by a 
calm sunny morning: the springlike warmth had brought out all the 
songbirds, who in tuneful chorus were propitiating the mother of the 
stars, the parent of the seasons, the mistress of the whole world, with 

Page 173 

their pretty greetings. Then the trees too, both the fertile with their 
yield of fruit and the infertile with only shade to offer, were all bright 
with budding leaves as they opened out in the south wind, which 
rustled sweetly in their gently waving branches. The huge roaring of 
the tempests had abated, the swelling turmoil of the waves had 
subsided, and the sea was quietly lapping the shore. The clouds had 
scattered and the sky shone out in all its clear bright luminous 

And now there began to appear the curtain-raiser to the great 
procession. This consisted of men finely got up, each according to his 
fancy: one was girt with a sword-belt and represented a soldier; 
another’s short cloak, boots and spear identified him as a hunter; 
while another, dressed in gilded slippers and a silk gown, wearing 
expensive ornaments and a wig, swung his hips as he walked in 
imitation of a woman. Yet another was conspicuous in greaves, 
shield, helmet and sword, straight out of a gladiatorial school. There 
was one with a purple robe and fasces playing the magistrate; one 
who with cloak and stick and sandals and goatlike beard passed 
himself off as a philosopher; and there were a pair carrying their 
respective rods, one impersonating a fowler complete with birdlime, 
the other a fisherman with hook and line. I also saw a tame bear 
dressed as a lady and being borne along in a litter; a monkey in a cloth 
cap and saffron-coloured Phrygian dress to look like Ganymede the 
shepherd-boy and holding a gold cup; and an ass with a pair of wings 
fastened to him walking along with a lame old man, recognizable as 
Pegasus and Bellerophon respectively, a comic duo. 

While these popular sports and diversions were going on all over 
the place, the saviour goddess’s own procession was getting under 
way. First came women in shining white attire, proudly displaying 
the different symbols they bore and garlanded with spring flowers, 
who strewed the street along which the sacred procession passed 
with flowers from the folds of their robes. Others held shining 
mirrors behind them to render homage to the goddess as she 
advanced. Others again carried ivory combs and with movements of 
their arms and fingers imitated the combing and dressing of the royal 
hair; and others sprinkled the streets with drops of festive balsam 
and other perfumes. There was also a large group of both sexes with 
lamps, torches, candles and every kind of man-made light to do 
honour to her from whom spring the stars of heaven. Next came 
tuneful bands of music, pipes and recorders sounding sweet 

Page 174 

melodies. They were followed by a specially chosen choir of 
handsome young men resplendently dressed in their best snow-white 
robes who were singing a charming hymn composed and set to music 
by a skilful poet favoured by the Muses, its text preluding the solemn 
prayers that were to come. Then came pipers in the service of great 
Sarapis, playing on their instruments, which extended to their right 
ears, the strain belonging to the god and his temple; and a number of 
others whose role was to call on the crowd to give free passage to the 


Then came the throng of those initiated in the mysteries, men and 
women of all ranks and ages in shining robes of pure white linen. The 
women’s hair was perfumed and covered with a transparent veil, the 
men had their heads clean-shaven and gleaming, and their sistrums of 
bronze or silver or in some cases gold combined to produce a clear 
shrill strain. There followed the earthly stars of the great faith, the 
priests of the cult, those grandees, clad in tightly-fitting white linen 
from breast to ankle and displaying the symbols of the most mighty 
gods in all their glory. The first held up a lamp burning with a bright 
flame, not one like those which light our dinner-tables at night, but a 
boat-shaped vessel of gold feeding a more ample flame from its 
central opening. The second was similarly attired, but carried in both 
hands one of those altars called Altars of Succour, so named from the 
succouring Providence of the sovereign goddess. A third came 
bearing aloft a golden palm-branch of delicate workmanship and a 
copy of Mercury’s caduceus. A fourth displayed an image of Justice, 
a model of a left hand with palm outstretched: this hand, as naturally 
inactive and unendowed with cleverness or contrivance, being 
thought more apt to symbolize justice than the right. He was also 
carrying a gold vessel rounded in the shape of a breast from which he 
poured libations of milk. A fifth carried a golden basket heaped with 
laurel branches, and a sixth a large jar. 


Next appeared the gods who deigned to proceed on human feet. 
First was the dread messenger between the gods above and the 
Underworld, his dog’s head held high aloft, his face now black, now 
gold: Anubis, holding a caduceus in his right hand and brandishing a 
green palm-leaf in his left. Hard on his heels followed a cow standing 
upright, the fertile image of the All-Mother, proudly borne on the 
shoulders of one of her blessed priests. Another was carrying a chest 
containing mystic emblems and securely concealing the secrets of the 
glorious faith. Another carried in his fortunate embrace the 

Page 175 

worshipful image of the supreme divinity. It was not in the shape of 
a domestic animal or a wild beast or even a human being, but one 
that claimed veneration from the very originality of its ingenious 
inspiration, an inexpressible symbol of a loftier faith to be shielded in 
profound silence. This was the form it took: a small urn of bright 
gold, artfully shaped with a well-rounded body and decorated outside 
with wonderful Egyptian figures; it had a short neck with a long 
projecting spout, opposite which was fixed a handle which also 
projected in a sweeping curve. Its finial was a coiled asp with striped 
scaly neck puffed up and held high. 


And now the promised beneficence of the ever-present goddess 
drew near, and there appeared the priest who held in his hands my 
fate and my salvation. Equipped exactly as she had ordained and 
promised, he carried in his right hand a sistrum for the goddess and 
for me a garland - rather a crown, as befitted the victory vouchsafed 
me by the great goddess’s Providence, after enduring so much 
suffering and surmounting so many dangers, over the malignant 
onslaughts of Fortune. However, deeply moved though I was with 
sudden joy, I did not press forward roughly, fearing that the abrupt 
incursion of an animal would disturb the peace and order of the 
ceremony. Moving cautiously at an even, almost human, pace, I 
gradually insinuated myself sideways into the crowd, which made 
way for me as if (as indeed it was) divinely prompted. 


The priest, mindful, as I could tell from his actions, of last night’s 
prophecy and marvelling at how exactly everything agreed with his 
instructions, at once stopped and of his own accord held the garland 
to my lips. Nervously, my heart pounding, I greedily took the plaited 
wreath of lovely roses in my mouth and in my passionate longing for 
the fulfilment of the promise gulped it down. The goddess was true 
to her word: in a moment my hideous beastly shape fell away. First 
there vanished my rough coat, then my thick hide became thin skin, 
my swelling belly drew itself in, fingers and toes emerged from my 
hooves, my hands were feet no longer but, as I stood up, extended to 
perform their proper function, my long neck contracted, my face and 
head became round, my huge ears reverted to their former size, my 
boulders of teeth returned to human proportions, and - what had 
been my chief cross - my tail was no longer there. The people were 
amazed, and the faithful bowed down before this public 
manifestation of the power of the great goddess, the ease with which 
the transformation was accomplished and its miraculous conformity 

Page 176 

with the nocturnal visions; and raising their hands to heaven, loudly 
and with one voice they bore witness to the goddess’s marvellous 


As for me, I stood transfixed in silent stupefaction. My mind could 
not take in this sudden overwhelming joy, and I did not know what I 
ought to say first, how I should begin to use my new gift of speech, 
which would be the most auspicious expression with which to 
celebrate the rebirth of my tongue, what were the most suitable 
words in which to utter my thanks to so great a goddess. However, 
the priest, who had been apprised through the divine revelation of 
the whole tale of my misfortunes and who was himself greatly 
affected by this signal miracle, silently indicated that I should be 
given a linen garment to cover me up; for from the moment that I 
was stripped of the ass’s hateful integument, I had kept my legs 
tightly closed and my hands clasped carefully in front of me, 
maintaining decency, so far as I could being stark naked, with this 
natural covering. At once one of the crowd of worshippers took off 
his outer tunic and quickly wrapped me in it. That done, the priest, 
gazing intently at me with a benevolent expression and the air of one 
inspired, addressed me as follows. 


‘Many and various are the sufferings you have endured, and fierce 
the tempests and storm-winds of Fortune by which you have been 
tossed; but at last, Lucius, you have come to the harbour of 
Tranquillity and the altar of Pity. Neither your birth, nor yet your 
rank, nor even your pre-eminent learning were of the slightest help to 
you, but in the unsteadiness of your green youth you lowered 
yourself to servile pleasures and reaped a bitter reward for your ill- 
starred curiosity. But in spite of all, Fortune in her blindness, all the 
while that she was tormenting and cruelly imperilling you, has by 
the very exercise of her unforeseeing malignity brought you to this 
state of holy felicity. Now let her go, let her vent her mad rage 
elsewhere and find some other subject for her cruelty; against those 
whose lives our sovereign goddess has claimed for her service 
mischance cannot prevail. Brigands, wild beasts, slavery, journeys 
hither and thither along rugged roads, the daily fear of death - of 
what avail were these to her malevolence? You have now been 
received into the protection of Fortune, but a Fortune that can see, 
whose shining light illumines even the other gods. Put on now a 
happier look in keeping with the bright dress you wear, and with 
exultant step join the procession of the saviour goddess. Let the 

Page 177 

infidels behold, let them behold and know their error: see, delivered 
from his former tribulations by the Providence of great Isis, here is 
Lucius rejoicing and triumphing over his Fortune. But for your 
greater safety and protection, enrol yourself a soldier in this sacred 
service to which you were just now called to swear allegiance; 
dedicate yourself now to the discipline of our faith, and submit 
yourself as a volunteer to the yoke of our ministry. For once you 
begin to serve the goddess, then you will really experience the 
enjoyment of your liberty.’ 


Having uttered this inspired speech, the worthy priest, exhausted 
and breathing heavily, fell silent. I then joined the throng of the 
devotees and escorted their sacred charge, the cynosure of the whole 
city, as they all pointed me out to one another. Nobody could talk of 
anything else: ‘That’s him, the one that the august power of the 
goddess has just restored to human shape. Happy man indeed, and 
thrice blessed to have deserved such glorious favour from heaven! It 
can only be the reward of a blameless and pious life; no sooner is he, 
as it were, born again than he’s pledged to the sacred service.’ 

During all this, amid a roar of joyful invocations, our gradual 
progress had brought us to the seashore, to the very spot where as an 
ass I had been stabled the night before. The images of the gods were 
first set out as the ritual prescribed. There stood a ship, a triumph of 
craftsmanship, its sides decorated with marvellous Egyptian 
paintings: the high priest, after first pronouncing a solemn prayer 
from his chaste lips, with the utmost ceremony purified it with a 
flaming torch, an egg, and sulphur, named it, and consecrated it to 
the great goddess. The resplendent sail of this happy vessel displayed 
letters embroidered in gold repeating the prayer for the new sailing 
season and successful navigation. The mast, shaped from a pine- 
trunk, was already stepped and towered aloft, a splendid sight with 
its distinctive top. The poop was curved in a goose-neck and was 
plated with shining gold, and the whole hull was of citrus-wood, 
highly polished to a glowing finish. All the people, initiates and 
uninitiated alike, then vied with each other to pile up on board 
baskets heaped with perfumes and other similar offerings, and also 
poured libations of milk-porridge into the sea. At length, stowed full 
with this wealth of gifts and propitious offerings, the ship was cast 
off from her moorings and put out to sea before a gentle breeze. 
When she had sailed too far for us to be able to make her out, the 
bearers of the sacred objects took up again what each had brought 
and returned happily to the temple in the same orderly procession. 

Page 178 


When we arrived there, the chief priest and those who had carried 
the images of the gods and those initiates who were allowed to enter 
the holy of holies went into the chamber of the goddess and restored 
the living images to their proper places. Then one of their number, 
whom the rest addressed as the Scribe, took up his stand outside the 
door and summoned the Pastophori - this is the name of the sacred 
college - to a sort of formal assembly. There, on a raised dais, he first 
read out from a written text auspicious prayers for the Emperor, the 
Senate, and the knights and all the Roman people, for the seamen and 
ships under the rule of our worldwide empire; and then with Greek 
ceremony and in Greek announced the opening of the sailing season. 
His words were greeted with a shout from the people proclaiming 
their gladness at the good omen. Transported with joy and bearing 
green twigs and branches and garlands, they kissed the feet of the 
silver statue of the goddess on the temple steps and then dispersed to 
their homes. As for me, I could not bear to think of stirring an inch, 
but with my eyes fixed on the goddess’s image I thought over my 
past adventures. 


Meanwhile swift Rumour had not been slow to take wing and had 
already spread abroad in my homeland the story of the foreseeing 
goddess’s worshipful beneficence and my remarkable good fortune. 
Accordingly my friends and household and all my closest relatives at 
once left off from the grieving occasioned by the false reports of my 
death, and overjoyed by the unexpected good news came hurrying, all 
with different gifts, to see for themselves one who had returned from 
the Underworld to the light of day. Never having expected to set eyes 
on any of them ever again I was greatly cheered and gratefully 
accepted their generous contributions, my friends having very 
considerately thought to provide me with the wherewithal to clothe 
and maintain myself in comfort. 


When therefore I had done my duty by greeting all of them and 
giving them a summary account of my past tribulations and my 
present happiness, I returned to what really gave me most pleasure, 
contemplation of the goddess. I rented a lodging in the temple 
precincts, where I set up house for the time being, joining privately 
in the service of the goddess, constantly associating with the priests, 
and incessantly adoring the great divinity. No night or snatch of sleep 
passed without her appearing to admonish me. Again and again she 

Page 17 9 

laid her sacred commands on me: I had long been singled out for 
initiation; now, she decreed, I must take the plunge. Though for 
myself I was eager and willing, I was held back by religious scruples. 
I had made thorough inquiries and knew that compliance with the 
requirements of her worship was not easy, that the practice of 
chastity and abstinence was very hard, and that a life that was subject 
to so many mischances had to be surrounded with a rampart of 
careful precaution. As I repeatedly thought all this over, impatient as 
I was, somehow or other I went on putting things off. 


One night I dreamed that the high priest appeared with a pocketful 
of something which he offered me. When I asked what it was he 
replied that these were some ‘portions’ that had been sent me from 
Thessaly, and that a slave of mine called Candidus had also arrived 
from there. When I woke up I puzzled for a long time over what this 
vision might portend, more especially because I was sure I had never 
had a slave of that name. However, be the event of this dream- 
prophecy what it might, I thought the offer of ‘portions’ could only 
signify a sure prospect of gain. So in high expectation of a fruitful 
outcome I waited for the morning opening of the temple. When the 
white curtains were drawn apart and the venerable image of the 
goddess was revealed, we all adored her; the priest meanwhile was 
making the rounds of the various altars, worshipping and offering 
the customary prayers at each, and pouring from a special vessel a 
libation of water fetched from the innermost shrine. When all this 
had been duly performed, the voices of the faithful were raised to 
salute the dawn and announce the first hour of a new day. Then, at 
that precise moment, there arrived from Hypata the servants I had 
left behind after Photis’ disastrous mistake had embridled me, they 
having of course now learned what had happened to me. With them 
they brought back my horse; he had been sold on from one owner to 
another, but they had traced him by the brand on his back and 
reclaimed him. So I was left marvelling at how neady my dream had 
worked out, not only the fulfilment of its promise of gain but the 
recovery of my horse, which was indeed a white one, symbolized by 
the slave Candidus. 


This event caused me to devote myself even more attentively to 21 
my religious duties, seeing in these present benefits an earnest of 
more to come. My desire to be admitted to the mysteries was 
growing with every day that passed, and I constantiy applied to the 
high priest with urgent prayers that he would finally initiate me into 

Page 180 

the secrets of the sacred night. He however, a man of great discretion 
and renowned for his strict religious observance, gently and kindly, as 
parents restrain the immature impulses of their children, kept 
putting off my importunities, soothing my anxiety with the 
consoling hope of better things to come. He pointed out that the day 
on which any individual might be initiated was declared by the will 
of the goddess, and the officiating priest was also chosen by her 
Providence; even the expenses of the ceremony were likewise 
regulated by her decision. All this he counselled me to bear dutifully 
and patiently; for I must, he said, do my utmost to guard against 
excess of zeal on the one hand and obstinacy on the other, both faults 
to be equally avoided, neither delaying when called nor chafing when 
not called. None of their company was so abandoned or indeed set on 
his own destruction as to dare to perform this ceremony unless 
personally ordered to do so by his mistress; that would be a reckless 
act of sacrilege and a crime carrying sentence of death. For the keys 
of hell and the guarantee of salvation were in the hands of the 
goddess, and the initiation ceremony itself took the form of a kind of 
voluntary death and salvation through divine grace. Such as might be 
safely entrusted with the great secrets of our religion, when they had 
passed through life and stood on the threshold of darkness, these the 
power of the goddess was wont to select and when they had been as it 
were reborn return them to a new lifespan. Thus I too should 
acquiesce in the bidding of heaven, even though long named and 
marked out by the clear and conspicuous favour of the great goddess 
for her blessed service. Meanwhile, like her other votaries, I should 
immediately abstain from unholy forbidden foods so that I might the 
better attain to the secret mysteries of this purest of religions. 

The priest having put it like this, I did not allow my impatience to 
affect my obedience but, calmly and quietly and maintaining a 
commendable silence, I devoted myself in earnest to the sacred 
worship for some days. However, the mighty goddess in her saving 
beneficence did not disappoint me or torment me by prolonged delay; 
one dark night she gave the clearest possible orders, warning me 
plainly that the day I had always longed for, in which she would 
grant my heartfelt prayer, had arrived. She told me how much it 
would cost to provide for the ceremony, and she decreed that her 
own high priest Mithras should conduct it, he being, as she told me, 
linked to me by a divinely ordained conjunction of our stars. 
Encouraged by these and other kind admonitions from the sovereign 
goddess, before it was fully light I aroused myself from sleep and 
went straight to the high priest’s apartments, where I met him and 

Page 181 

greeted him just as he was leaving his room. I had resolved to put my 
request for initiation more pressingly than ever, as being now my 
due; but the moment he saw me he anticipated me. ‘Fortunate 
Lucius!’ he exclaimed. ‘Happy man, to be so greatly honoured by the 
august goddess’s grace and favour! But come,’ he added, ‘why do you 
stand there idle, yourself your own delay? The day is here that you 
have longed and prayed for so incessantly, the day on which by the 
divine command of the goddess of many names you are to be 
inducted by these hands of mine into the most holy mysteries of our 
faith.’ And holding my arm affectionately the old man then and there 
took me out to the doors of the great temple, and after the solemn 
ritual of opening them and the performance of the morning sacrifice 
he brought out from the holy of holies some books written in 
unknown characters. Some of these represented various animals and 
were shorthand for formulaic expressions, and some were in the 
form of knots or rounded like a wheel or twisted at the ends like 
vine-tendrils, to guard their meaning against the curiosity of the 
uninitiated. From these he read out to me what I needed to procure 
for my initiation. 


This I at once proceeded to buy as directed and without counting 
the cost, partly from my own resources and partly with the help of 
my friends. Then, when the priest said the moment had come, he led 
me to the nearest baths, escorted by the faithful in a body, and there, 
after I had bathed in the usual way, having invoked the blessing of 
the gods he ceremoniously aspersed and purified me. Next I was 
taken back to the temple, the day being now two-thirds over, where 
he made me stand at the goddess’s feet and privately gave me certain 
instructions which are too sacred to divulge. Then with everybody 
present he ordered me to abstain from the pleasures of the table for 
the next ten days and not to eat the flesh of any animal or drink any 
wine. This abstinence I observed with reverential restraint as 
instructed. Then the day came which was fixed for my pledged 
appearance before the goddess. Towards sunset there came flocking 
from all sides crowds of people, all bearing different gifts in my 
honour, according to the ancient practice of the mysteries. Then the 
uninitiated were all made to leave, I was dressed in a brand-new linen 
robe, and the priest took me by the hand and conducted me to the 
very innermost part of the sanctuary. 

I dare say, attentive reader, that you are all agog to know what was 
then said and done. I should tell you if it were lawful to tell it; you 
should learn if it were lawful to hear it. But then your ears and my 

Page 182 

tongue would both incur equal guilt, the one for sacrilegious 
loquacity, the other for importunate curiosity. But since it may be 
that your anxious yearning is piously motivated, I will not torment 
you by prolonging your anguish. Listen then, but believe; for what I 
tell you is the truth. I came to the boundary of death and after 
treading Proserpine’s threshold I returned having traversed all the 
elements; at midnight I saw the sun shining with brilliant light; I 
approached the gods below and the gods above face to face and 
worshipped them in their actual presence. Now I have told you 
what, though you have heard it, you cannot know. So all that can 
without sin be revealed to the understanding of the uninitiated, that 
and no more I shall relate. 


Morning came, and, the ceremonies duly performed, I came forth 
attired in the twelve robes of my consecration, a truly mystical dress, 
but nothing prevents me from mentioning it since a great many 
people were there and saw it at the time. For in the very heart of the 
sacred temple, before the statue of the goddess, a wooden platform 
had been set up, on which I took my stand as bidden. I was a striking 
sight, since though my dress was only of fine linen it was colourfully 
embroidered, and from my shoulders there fell behind me to my 
ankles a costly cloak. Wherever you looked, I was decorated all over 
with pictures of multicoloured animals: here Indian serpents, there 
Hyperborean griffins with bird-like wings, creatures of another 
world. This is what initiates call an Olympic robe. In my right hand I 
held a flaming torch and my head was encircled with a beautiful 
crown of palm, its bright leaves projecting like rays. Equipped thus 
in the image of the Sun I stood like a statue while the curtains were 
suddenly pulled back and the people crowded in to gaze at me. 
Following this I celebrated my rebirth as an initiate with enjoyable 
feasting and good-humoured conviviality. The third day too was 
celebrated with similar ceremonies and a sacramental breakfast, 
marking the formal conclusion of my initiation. 

For a few days I remained enjoying the inexpressible pleasure of 
contemplating the image of the goddess, bound as I was to her by a 
boon I could never repay. At last, at the bidding of the goddess 
herself, having paid my debt of gratitude to her, not indeed in full but 
as fully as my means allowed, I set about preparing my long-delayed 
return home, though it was hard for me to sever the bonds of my 
ardent yearning. Finally I prostrated myself before her, and repeatedly 
kissing her feet and weeping profusely, my words constantly 
strangled by sobs and my voice choking in my throat, I prayed. 

Page 183 


‘Hail, holy one, eternal saviour of the human race, ever cherishing 
mortals with your bounty, you who extend a mother’s tender love to 
the sufferings of the unfortunate. Not a day, not a night, not a fleeting 
second passes in which your goodness is not at work, safeguarding 
men on land and sea, quelling life’s storms and holding out that 
rescuing hand which can even unravel the inextricably tangled 
threads of the Fates, calm the tempests of Fortune, and check the 
baleful motions of the stars. The gods above worship you, the gods 
below revere you; you make the earth revolve, you give the sun his 
light, you rule the universe, you trample hell under your feet. 
Obedient to you the stars rise and set, the seasons return, the powers 
rejoice, the elements perform their service. At your bidding the 
winds blow, the clouds nourish, the seeds germinate, the buds break 
and grow. Your majesty is held in awe by the birds that fly in the 
heavens, the beasts that roam in the mountains, the snakes that slide 
over the earth, the monsters that swim in the deep. As for me, my 
talents are too meagre to recite your praises and my means too 
slender to offer you sacrifice; and my eloquence is too poor and 
barren to express what I feel about your majesty - for which indeed a 
thousand mouths and as many tongues and a flow of words that never 
tired and lasted for ever would not suffice. And so I shall faithfully do 
all that a man can who is a devotee, though a poor one: I shall keep 
and contemplate your divine countenance and your holy power in 
the secret recesses of my heart for ever.’ 

Having thus propitiated the great goddess, I embraced the priest 
Mithras, now my father, and hanging on his neck and repeatedly 
kissing him I asked him to forgive me for not being able to 

him properly for his many kindnesses. Then, after expressing my 
gratitude at great length, I finally parted from him and made haste to 
revisit my ancestral home after my long absence. However, after a 
few days, at the prompting of the mighty goddess, I hurriedly packed 
and took ship for Rome. After a prosperous voyage with favourable 
winds I arrived safely at Ostia; from there I took a fast carriage and 
reached the holy city on the evening of the twelfth of December. My 
most urgent desire was then to offer my prayers daily to the supreme 
power of Queen Isis, to her who from the site of her temple is called 
Isis of the Field and is the subject of special veneration and adoration. 
I was from then on a constant worshipper, a newcomer it is true to 
this shrine but no stranger to the faith. 

Page 184 

Now the great Sun had traversed the zodiac and a year had passed, 
when the tranquil course of my life was once more interrupted by 
the unsleeping concern of the beneficent goddess, warning me of a 
second initiation and a second set of ceremonies. I could not imagine 
what she purposed or what she was foretelling, since I quite thought 
that I had been completely initiated some time ago. These 


misgivings I pondered in my own mind and I also took advice from 
other members of the cult. I was surprised to discover that though I 
had indeed been initiated, it was only into the mysteries of Isis, and I 
had yet to attain enlightenment in the mysteries of the great god, 
supreme father of the gods, the invincible Osiris. Though the nature 
and cult of the two deities was closely connected, indeed one and the 
same, yet the process of initiation was quite different. I should 
therefore understand that the great god too was calling me to his 

I was not long left in doubt. The very next night I dreamed that 
there appeared to me one of the faithful dressed in linen and carrying 
a wand tipped with ivy and other things I may not mention. These he 
put down in my lodging, and sitting in my seat announced a banquet 
in honour of our great faith. To furnish me with a sure sign by 
which I should know him again, he had a slightly deformed left 
ankle, so that he limped a little in his walk. With so clear an 
expression of the will of the gods the dark cloud of uncertainty at 
once lifted and vanished, and after my morning prayer to the goddess 
I eagerly asked all the others whether any of them had a limp as in 
my dream. Confirmation was soon forthcoming: I immediately 
spotted one of the college who not only limped but whose 
appearance and dress exactly matched that of the previous night’s 
apparition. I later found out that his name was Asinius Marcellus, 
very apt in view of my transformation. I lost no time in getting hold 
of him, and found that he already knew what I was going to tell him, 
he having already been likewise instructed that he was to initiate me. 
The previous night he had dreamed that while he was garlanding the 
statue of the great god he had learned from that very mouth which 
announces every man’s destiny that there was sent to him a man 
from Madaura, quite a poor man, whom he was at once to initiate 
into his faith. For that man literary renown and for himself a great 
reward were prepared by the god’s Providence. 


Page 185 

Though thus pledged to initiation and eager as I was, I was held 
back by the slenderness of my means. My modest patrimony had been 
used up in paying for my travels, and the cost of living at Rome was 
much higher than in the provinces where I came from. With my 
poverty interposing its veto I found myself sorely perplexed, caught, 
as they say, between the devil and the deep sea. The god continued to 
press me relentlessly, and his repeated goading, which in the end 
became a command, was most distressing to me. Eventually by selling 
my wardrobe, such as it was, I scraped together the small sum that 
was needed. This in fact I did by his express orders. ‘Come,’ he said, 
‘if you were planning some scheme for mere enjoyment, you 
wouldn’t have any scruples about disposing of your clothes; now, 
when you are about to undergo so important a ceremony, do you 
hesitate to commit yourself to a poverty you will have no cause to 
regret?’ So therefore, everything being properly prepared, I once 
more went for ten days without eating animal food and once more 
had my head shaved. Then, enlightened by the nocturnal mysteries of 
the supreme god, I began in full confidence my devotions in this twin 
faith. Doing so consoled me a great deal for having to live in foreign 
parts and afforded me a more ample living into the bargain: for the 
favouring breeze of Success brought me a small income from 
pleading in the courts in Latin. 


However, it was not very long before the gods once again intervened 
with the unexpected and startling order that I must undergo yet a 
third initiation. I was extremely worried and in great perplexity 
asked myself anxiously what the gods might mean by this new and 
unlooked-for demand. I had been initiated twice: what was there left 
to do? ‘Those two priests,’ I said to myself, ‘must have given me bad 
advice or overlooked something’ - and I actually, I must admit, began 
to entertain suspicions of their good faith. While I was in this 
agitated state, driven almost insane with worry, I was visited one 
night by an apparition which gently imparted the following 
revelation: ‘You have no cause to fear this sequence of initiations or 
think the first two defective. Rather you should rejoice in this 
constant favour of the gods and take an exultant delight in it: what is 
granted once if at all to others, will be yours three times, and you can 
be sure that this threefold initiation will render you forever blessed. 
Moreover, this third initiation of yours is necessarily called for, if 
you remember that the goddess’s holy symbols which you received 
at Cenchreae are still in the temple there where you left them, so that 
here in Rome you cannot wear them to worship in on feast days or 
receive illumination from that happy attire when ordered to do so. 

Page 186 

So, as the great gods command, you must with a glad heart be 
initiated once more; and may happiness and prosperity and salvation 
attend your consecration.’ 


With these words of majestic eloquence the divine apparition 
declared what needed to be done. I did not put the matter off or idly 
procrastinate, but at once told the high priest what I had dreamed. At 
once I submitted myself to abstinence from animal food, and indeed 
in my voluntary continence I considerably exceeded the ten days 
prescribed by the immemorial law; and I provided lavishly for the 
ceremony on a scale dictated by my pious ardour rather than my 
limited means. Not that I regretted this expenditure either of labour 
or money - had I not through the bountiful Providence of the gods 
made a very pretty thing of my practice in the courts? So after only a 
few days the god who is the most mighty of the great gods, highest of 
the mighty, greatest of the highest, and ruler of the greatest, Osiris, 
appeared to me in my sleep, not transformed into some other shape 
but face to face, and deigned to address me in his own august voice. I 
was, he ordered, to continue confidently my distinguished practice as 
an advocate and I was not to fear the slanders put about by ill- 
wishers, provoked by my learning and my application to my 
profession. Furthermore, not wishing me to serve his cult as one of 
the crowd, he admitted me to the sacred college of the Pastophori 
and indeed enrolled me in the order of quinquennial decurions. So, 
with my head once more completely shaved and not covering or 
veiling my baldness, I entered joyfully on my duties as a member of 
this ancient college, founded in the time of Sulla. 

Page 187 

The Onos and The Golden Ass 




5 - 




16 - 


(See Introduction, §4) 

Arrival at Hypata. 
Hospitably received/bored 
and starved by 

In quest of witchcraft. 
Warned by Abroea/Byrrhena 
against Hipparchus’ 

Intrigue with 


With the robbers 




1 . 2 , 

21 - 4 , 


2 . 1 - 3 , 


2 . 6 - 7 , 

10 , 


3 . 19 - 


3 . 28 - 
4 . 5 , 7 - 
8 , 22 - 
3 , 

6 . 25 - 


Page 1 88 















The robbers captured by 
soldiers/drugged and 
slaughtered. Lucius well 
treated by the captive 

At pasture and in the mill 

The abominable boy. 
Threat of castration 

Death of the captive 
girl/Charite and her 
husband. The establishment 

Arrival at Beroea/‘a certain 
large and famous city’. Sold 
to Philebus. With the priests 

With the baker 

With the gardener 

With the cooks 









9.4, 8- 

9. lO- 





Page 1 89 

4 g_ With Menecles of 

52 Thessalonica/Thiasus of 




53- The games. Lucius regains 

5 his shape/escapes 



The stories, episodes and significant amplifications which in all 
probability were not in Met. and were added by Apuleius are then: 

Aristomenes’ story 


The trampling of the fish 


Byrrhena’s house 


On hair 





Thelyphron’s story 



Encounter with the ‘robbers’; the spoof trial; 
Photis’ explanation 



Thwarted attempt to eat roses; first beating 


Page 190 

The robbers’ lair 


First robber’s story 

Second robber’s story 

Charite’s story 

Cupid and Psyche 

Third robber’s story 

Tlepolemus’ story 

Death of abominable boy 

Story of Charite, Tlepolemus and Thrasyllus 

Adventures on the road 

Inserted story (i): the delinquent slave 


4 . 9-21 

4 . 24-7 

4 . 28 - 


7 . 1-3 

7 . 4-12 

7 . 24-8 

8 . 1-14 

8 . 15 - 



Page 191 

Inserted story (ii): the lover and the jar 

9 . 5-7 

Lucius meditates on his situation 

Inserted story (iii): the baker’s wife 

Inserted story (iv): Barbarus’ wife 

Inserted story (v): the fuller’s wife 

Inserted story (vi): the downfall of a 

Inserted story (vii): the wicked 

Inserted story (viii): the condemned 

The games. Pyrrhic dance; the Judgement of 

Rescue by Isis and Lucius’ subsequent 

Page 192 

9 . 12 - 


9 . 14 - 

9 . 16 - 


9 . 24-5 

9 . 33-8 

10 . 2 - 


10 . 23 - 


10 . 29 - 


10 . 36 - 


Page 193 

A Note on Money 

The relative values of the sums of money that change hands in the course 
of the narrative can be calculated from the table 

1 gold piece (aureus) = 25 denarii = 100 sestertii. 

However, it is clear that Apuleius habitually manipulated and 
exaggerated prices for comic or dramatic effect or indeed on occasion for 
no apparent reason at all (see R. Duncan- Jones, The Economy of the 
Roman Empire, Cambridge, 1974, pp. 248-51). For instance, the 
fluctuations in the price of Lucius-as-ass as he is sold on from one owner 
to another do not seem to follow any discernible pattern or make any 
implicit point. It follows that any attempt to relate these sums of money 
to contemporary economic reality or translate them into modern 
equivalents is bound to be fruitless. 

Page 194 



1.1 this Milesian discourse: see Introduction, §1. 

amusing: this renders lepidus, from lepos, a word connoting charm, 
grace, wit. Lucius repeatedly uses this adjective to characterize the 
stories he hears and tells. Their true significance and their relevance to 
his own case invariably escape him. 

an Egyptian book: papyrus came from Egypt. It is only in book 11 that 
the story takes on an explicitly Egyptian colouring. However, the fact 
that it is an ass into which Lucius is transformed then takes on its full 
significance. See Introduction, §9. 

with the sharpness of a pen from the Nile: the pen, of Nile reed, is both 
literally and metaphorically ‘sharp’, a hint that the book may after all 
prove to be something more than the ‘amusing gossip’ promised here. 

Attic Hymettus, the Isthmus of Corinth, and Spartan Taenarus: Mount 
Hymettus stands for Athens, where Lucius had been a student (1.24). 
Corinth, as later emerges (2.12), was his native place. Taenarus figures 
only as one of the traditional entrances to the Underworld (6.18); there 
may be an allusion to the symbolic Catabasis (descent to Hell) which 
formed part of the ritual of Isiac initiation (11.23). 

mastered the Latin language: Apuleius himself had learned Latin as a 
boy in North Africa; this is Lucius speaking. At the end of the story he 
will be abruptly elbowed aside by his creator (11.27 and note), who is 
very far from being ‘an unpractised speaker’ (11.28). However, see also 
39 and note. 

the trick... of changing literary horses at the gallop: a graphic image of 
the kaleidoscopic variety of content, models, tone and treatment in this 
unique novel, but referring more particularly to the author’s linguistic 
versatility. See Introduction, §1. 

a Grecian story: see Introduction, §§1, 4. 

1.2 Plutarch and his nephew Sextus: the connection is alluded to again by 
Byrrhena (2.3). The implication is that Lucius ought to know better: his 

Page 195 

unenlightened curiosity and degrading involvement in sensual pleasures 
with Photis are a betrayal of his philosophical heritage. It is only towards 
the end of the novel that this is brought home to him in the words of the 
priest of Isis. The attentive reader is supposed to be equipped and alert to 
grasp the significance of such apparently casual allusions. Sextus was 
tutor to Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. Descent, real or fictitious, 
from Plutarch was something for a philosopher to boast of (C. P. Jones, 
Plutarch and Rome, Oxford, 1971, pp. 11-12). On Plutarchan elements in 
the novel see Introduction, §9. 

a pure white animal: later to take on a symbolic significance (11.20). 

thirsting as always for novelty: inopportune curiosity will be his, and 
Psyche’s, undoing. The well-informed reader would remember that 
Plutarch had written a treatise De curiositate, in which there is much 
that is relevant to Lucius and his behaviour (Introduction, §9). 

1.3 milked of her dew. it was believed that dew was produced by the 

1.4 the Painted Porch: the Stoa Poikile, a portico decorated with 
paintings by famous artists and the meeting-place of the sect called after 
it, the Stoics. The contrast of the setting, with its stern philosophical 
associations, and the speciously miraculous nature of the spectacle with 
which Lucius couples it, again hints at his wilful neglect of his 
advantages. He should have been in the Porch imbibing wisdom, not 
gawping at mountebanks outside. 

twining sinuously round it: Aesculapius (Greek Asklepios) was the son 
of Apollo and god of medicine. His emblem was a ragged staff and a 
serpent, symbolizing renewal. 

1.5 Aristomenes, from Aegium: a rather grand name for a commercial 
traveller ( aristos , ‘best’, menos, ‘might’), borne by, among others, the 
addressee of one of Pindar’s victory odes fPythians, 8). See below on 
Socrates. Aegium was a city of some importance on the south shore of 
the Gulf of Corinth. 

on the wrongfoot: proverbial for doing something inauspicious at the 
outset of a journey or undertaking, left being as now the unlucky side. 

Lupus: ‘wolf. See next note. 

1.6 Socrates: the bearer of this name turns out to be no more 
distinguished for wisdom than Aristomenes for courage. Such ‘speaking’ 
names were a feature of epic, and Apuleius employs them freely. 

1.7 a gang of bandits: brigandage plays a prominent part in the plot of 
Apuleius’ novel, as it does in the Greek romances. It appears to have been 

Page 196 

a feature of life in the remoter provinces; but Lucius’ world is in general 
a lawless place. See Introduction, §6. 

Meroe: there was a famous temple of Isis on the island of Meroe in 
the upper Nile, but it is perhaps more likely that her name puns on 
merum, ‘neat wine’. 

1.8 bring down the sky... illuminate Hell itself: a typical catalogue of the 
feats commonly attributed to witches, and precisely the kind of 
phenomena discredited by Aristomenes’ sceptical companion. 

both lots: ‘the Aethiopians, that last race of men, whose dispersion 
across the world’s end is so broad that some of them can see the Sun-God 
rise while others see him set’ (Homer, Odyssey, I. 23-4, trans. T. E. 

the Antipodeans: the idea of men ‘with feet opposite’ ( antipus ) on the 
other side of a spherical world is first attested in Plato’s Timaeus (63a). 

1.9 biting off their balls: they were supposed to be aware that it was for 
the sake of a medicinal oil ( castoreum ) extracted from their testicles that 
they were hunted (Pliny, Natural History, 8. 109, 32. 26-31). 

as if it was an elephant: the period of gestation for elephants was 
popularly supposed to be ten years (in fact, just under two). 

1.10 Medea: the witch par excellence. When her husband Jason 
proposed to take a new wife she contrived the destruction of the bride 
and her father Creon, king of Corinth, by the gift of a poisoned robe and a 
self-igniting crown. The story was familiar from Euripides’ classic 
treatment in his play Medea. 

into a trench: like Odysseus (Ulysses) summoning the ghosts from 
Hades (Homer, Odyssey, 11. 35-6). According to Heliodorus this was a 
common necromantic practice in Egypt ( Ethiopica , 6. 14. 2). 

1.12 Panthia: ‘all-divine’. 

Endymion: a beautiful shepherd with whom the Moon (Artemis, 
Diana) fell in love. At his own request Zeus (Jupiter) granted him eternal 
life, eternal youth, and eternal sleep. 

Ganymede: a beautiful Trojan boy, abducted by Zeus to be his 
cupbearer and bedfellow. 

his wily Ulysses: Calypso was the nymph with whom Odysseus 
(Ulysses) spent seven years of the ten that it took him to get back home 
from Troy (Homer, Odyssey, 5. 1-269). The later tradition, Homer’s ‘man 
of many resources’ (ibid., 1. 1) became a byword for unscrupulous 

Page 197 

1.13 like Bacchantes: who tore wild animals apart in their frenzy. 

1.15 Cerberus : the three-headed dog that guarded the entrance to Hades; 
see 6.19. 

1.16 Now, now... my dearest bed: with the substitution of grabatule, 
‘bed’, for frater, ‘brother’, the opening words of this prayer are identical 
with an apostrophe put into the mouth of the Numidian Adherbal by 
Sallust in his Jugurthine War (14. 22). This paratragedic appeal to a 
broken-down bedstead forms an ironic contrast to the real prayers 
addressed by Lucius to Isis later in the novel. 

with which it was strung: the mattress rested on a network of cords 
stretched across the frame, as in an Indian charpoy. 

1.19 waxy pale: literally ‘with the pallor of boxwood’, a recurring poetic 

1.20 delightful: lepidus (see 1.1 and note). 

1.21 Milo: the name of (1) a famous Greek wrestler of the sixth century 
BC; (2) a Roman politician defended by Cicero in a famous speech, the 
Pro Milone, on charges of political violence. In this case there seems to be 
no particular relevance to Milo’s character, which is that of a miser. 

his ruling passion: there seems to be a pun on the literal and 
transferred senses of aerugo, ‘verdigris’ and ‘canker of the mind’. Horace 
writes of avarice as ‘this craze for coppers, this verdigris... on our hearts’ 
( Art of Poetry, trans. Niall Rudd, 330-31). 

Demeas: the name of the severe brother in Terence’s play Adelphoe; 
again it is difficult to see any significance in the choice. 

1.22 his wife sitting: the old custom by which men reclined at table and 
women and children sat had become obsolete, at least as regarded women, 
at Rome nearly two centuries before Apuleius’ time. If this passage 
(which reproduces the Onos ) is reliable evidence it survived much longer 
in the provinces. 

1.23 old Hecale’s frugal hospitality: Theseus, on his way to fight the Bull 
of Marathon, took shelter from the rain in the cottage of an old woman 
called Hecale. The episode was the subject of a famous and influential 
short epic poem by Callimachus of which only fragments survive: see 
Callimachus, Hecale, ed. A. S. Hollis (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990). 

Photis: her name derives from Greek phos, ‘light’, as Lucius’ does from 
Latin lux. In this sense she is an ignis fatuus, beckoning him away from 
the true light, who is Isis, with the allurements of purely sensual 
pleasure. See 3.22 and note. 

Page 1 98 

1.24 for our supper, i.e. for himself and his slaves, whose presence is 
taken for granted (2.15 and note). Insouciance about such details is an 
Apuleian hallmark. 

Pytheas : Apuleius’ manuscripts and modern editors and translators 
spell him Pythias, which is a woman’s name. Again the choice of name 
seems to have no special significance. 

Lucius : here first identified by name. 

Clytius: a name borne by several characters from myth and legend; 
klutos in Greek means ‘famous’. However, the name here is a conjectural 
restoration of the manuscript reading adstio. 

an aedile: aediles were magistrates in charge of various aspects of 
public order, including supervision of the markets. 

1.25 completely bemused: as well he might be; the episode has perplexed 
scholars too. Rather than a gratuitous stroke of satire at the expense of 
municipal officialdom, always admittedly fair game (Schlam, 1992, p. 
33), it seems more likely that it carries some symbolic implication. The 
fish was an important symbol both in the cult of Atargatis, whose 
discreditable priests Lucius will later encounter (8.24 and note), and for 
the early Christians (see OCD s.v. fish, sacred), and there is evidence for 
an Isiac ritual intended to avert inimical influences which involved 
trampling fish underfoot (Schlam, ibid.). For the possibility that it is 
Christianity which is glanced at here, see 9.14 and note. The immediate 
outcome is that at the end of his first day in Thessaly Lucius goes to bed 
tired out, hungry and bewildered; and it may be that Apuleius inserted 
the episode, which was almost certainly not in his original, to provide 
the end of the first book of his novel with an effective conclusion. If that 
was his intention, the effect remains elusive. 


2.1 a new day: and a new book, as with books 3, 7 and 8. This is 
characteristic of epic narrative, as is the ending of a book with the hero’s 
retiring to rest (1, 2, 10; similarly book 4 ends with Psyche in a deep 
sleep). It is also in the epic manner to ring artful literary changes on the 
theme of daybreak. 

Page 1 99 

the cradle of magic arts and spells: the reputation of Thessaly as 
mother of witches goes back at least to Aristophanes ( Clouds , 749-50). 

2.2 Salvia: the name for a medicinal herb (Pliny, Natural History, 22. 
147), but probably chosen here for its etymological connection with 
solus, ‘safety’, ‘life’, ‘salvation’; it is Lucius’ salvation that, as the reader 
eventually discovers, the book is all about, and his mother’s name is 
another reminder of the advantages he had enjoyed which ought to have 
helped him to avoid the pitfalls into which his curiosity is to lead him. 
The hint is reconfirmed by Byrrhena’s allusion to the family connection 
with Plutarch. 

eyes grey: the word used here, caesius, is variously rendered ‘grey’, 
‘blue-grey’ and ‘green’; the precise meaning of terms of colour in Greek 
and Latin is often open to argument. Though this was the colour of 
Minerva’s (Athene’s) eyes, it was evidently not as a rule admired in 
people; in Lucretius’ famous catalogue of lovers’ euphemisms a man 
with a grey-eyed girlfriend is advised to pass her off as ‘a miniature Pallas 
[Athene]’ ( De rerum natura, 4. 1161). 

2.3 Byrrhena: perhaps ‘Ginger’, burrus being the Latin spelling of Greek 
purrhos, ‘red-haired’. It has, however, been ingeniously suggested that the 
allusion is to Greek bursa, ‘leather’, and that her reference to rearing 
Lucius with her own hands implies that she was a strict disciplinarian; if 
so, he evidently failed to profit from her attentions. Dickensians will 
remember Pip’s rueful reflections in Great Expectations on his 
upbringing ‘by hand’. 

2.4 There was a magnificent entrance-hall: set-piece descriptions, of 
which this is the first example in the novel, were a stock feature of 
poetry and oratory, and Apuleius clearly enjoyed the opportunities that 
they offered for virtuosic writing. Some of those in The Golden Ass have 
no other justification, as is admitted in the case of the robbers’ lair (4.6 
and note). This example, however, as will appear, is a significant 

a statue of Victory: these statues, so precariously poised, hint perhaps 
that Lucius’ eventual victory over Fortune (11.15) will not be easily won. 

Actaeon: while out hunting he came on Diana bathing with her 
nymphs and was turned by her into a stag and torn to pieces by his own 
hounds. As a symbolic warning against inopportune curiosity the 
message could hardly be clearer, and it is immediately reinforced by the 
ironical implications of Byrrhena’s formal words of welcome, ‘everything 
you see is yours’ (ch. 5), and her adjuration by Diana, who is also the 
Underworld goddess Hecate and the Moon, both avatars of Isis (11.2, 5). 
The story of Actaeon would have been familiar to any educated Roman 

Page 200 

from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (3. 138-52), and the subject was favoured by 

2.5 by Diana there: as Hecate she was goddess of witchcraft and magic. 

Pamphile : ‘all-loving’; another Meroe. However, in the event it is the 
involvement with Photis that is Lucius’ undoing. 

2.7 to vote with my feet: the usual phrase when the Senate divided on a 
motion, which they did by walking to one side or the other of the Senate 

a succulent stew: there follows another dish, but the text is hopelessly 

stood in amazement... stood to attention: Apuleius spices his naughty 
joke by echoing the words used by Virgil to describe Aeneas’ 
consternation at the apparition of Creusa: ‘I was paralysed. My hair stood 
on end’ ( Aeneid , 2. 774, trans. David West). 

witty: lepida (see 1.1 and note). 

2.8 this preference: there is more to this than a personal obsession. This 
description of Photis’ hair is picked up in the epiphany of Isis (11.3), 
lending weight to the suggestion that Photis is a sort of anti- or false Isis: 
see the notes on 1.23, 3.22. 

her cestus: the love-charm lent by Aphrodite (Venus) to Hera (Juno) 
in a famous passage of Homer (Iliad, 14. 211-23); probably a breast-band 
rather than a girdle or belt. 

her Vulcan: the Latin is nicely ambiguous: suo, ‘her own’, need mean 
no more than ‘her dear’, but some translators take it as ‘husband’, as he is 
in Homer and the classical poets. However, later on (5.30) Venus by her 
own account turns out to be married en secondes noces to Mars (Ares), 
who in the usual version of events was her lover. Apuleius may well have 
known the pre-classical genealogy in which Ares was Aphrodite’s 
husband (Hesiod, Theogony, 933-4). 

2.10 a bittersweet morsel: a literary stereotype deriving from Sappho’s 
famous description of Eros as ‘a bittersweet irresistible creature’, but 
again irony is at work. Photis’ light-hearted prophecy will turn out to be 
all too accurate. 

2.11 Venus’ supporter and squire: an allusion to the proverbial sentiment, 
first met with in Terence’s play Eunuchus (732), that ‘Without food and 
wine Venus lacks warmth’; but the word translated by ‘squire’, armiger, 
contributes to the warlike imagery which Apuleius substitutes for the 
wrestling metaphors of the original in the subsequent description of their 

Page 201 

amatory encounter. 

plenty of oil in the lamp: ‘... moving blind spoils love-making; In love 
it’s the eyes that lead’; so Propertius (2. 15. 11-12, trans. A. G. Lee), 
expressing a traditional view. Aristophanes’ play Ecclesiazusae begins 
with a famous address to the lamp as the accomplice and confidant of 
lovers, and the theme constantly recurs in the poets. See 5.22 and note. 

the bottomless pit : in the Latin, Lake Avernus in the Bay of Naples, 
traditionally one of the entrances to the Underworld; another is Taenarus 
(6.18 and note). 

2.12 sharing consciousness with it: Lucius trivializes the Stoic 
identification of God (Nature, Fate, Providence) with fire. 

a Chaldean: the Chaldeans (Babylonians) were famous for their skill 
in astronomy and astrology. By Apuleius’ time ‘Chaldean’ often simply 
meant ‘astrologer’. 

a legend, an incredible romance in several volumes: the Latin says 
historiam... et fabulam et libros me futurum, i.e. I shall be the 
Metamorphoses, the book now in the reader’s hands. This is an early hint 
of the forthcoming identification at the end of the novel of Lucius as ‘a 
man from Madaura’ (11.27), the revelation, that is, that this narrative is 
in some sense confessional and autobiographical. Apuleius peeps out 
again from behind the persona of Lucius at 4.32 and 8.1 (see notes). 

2.13 Diophanes: ‘god- revealing’. 

Cerdo: ‘profiteer’. 

2.14 both her rudders: ships were steered by two oars, one on each side 
of the stern. 

Arignotus: ‘well-known’. 

2.15 irrelevant anecdotes: another warning obtusely ignored: if 
Diophanes cannot foresee his own future accurately, why should his 
prediction of Lucius’ be any more reliable? True, it is correct as far as it 
goes, but it leaves much unforetold. 

the slaves: Lucius’; Photis was the only servant in Milo’s household. 
This is one of the numerous loose ends in Apuleius’ conduct of the story; 
we hear again (11.20) of ‘the servants’ left behind at Hypata, but 
elsewhere (2.31, 3.27, 7.2) only one is mentioned. See Introduction, §5. 

only waiting to be diluted: wine was generally drunk mixed with 
water, sometimes, as here, warm. 

2.16 garlanded me: garlands, it has been observed, were the ancient 

Page 202 

equivalent of evening dress. Roses were especially associated with Venus, 
but their appearance here will prove ironic. 

without any diplomatic overtures: in the Latin ‘without waiting for the 
Fetiales to do their stuff’. The Fetiales were a college of priests 
responsible for the formalities of making treaties and declaring war. Not a 
very plausible witticism in the mouth of a native Greek, but one of many 
such specifically Roman and often anachronistic allusions in the novel. 
See below, 2.18 and note. 

2.17 to protect her modesty: there was a famous painting by Apelles of 
Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene), of which Apuleius could 
have seen a copy at Rome. However, the pose provocatively and self- 
consciously adopted by Photis recalls rather Praxiteles’ equally famous 
and much-copied statue of the Cnidian Aphrodite (M. Robertson, A 
History of Greek Art, Cambridge, 1975, 1. 391-4, II. Plate 127). 

2.18 take the auspices: the practice of taking the auspices before battle 
had fallen into disuse long before Apuleius’ time. By alluding to Photis’ 
decision in these terms Lucius implicitly accords her divine status. 

2.20 Thelyphron: ‘womanheart’. 
amusing: lepidi (see 1.1 and note). 

2.21 like a man making a formal speech: gesture was an important part of 
rhetorical technique; the various deployments of fingers and thumb to 
suit what is being said are elaborately analysed by Quintilian in the 
Institutio Oratoria (11. 3. 92-106). 

2.23 Harpies: monsters with a bird’s body and a woman’s head. 

Lynceus or Argus: Lynceus was one of the Argonauts renowned for his 
keen sight; Argus had a hundred eyes. Thelyphron forgets or has never 
learned that both came to an untimely end, Lynceus killed by Pollux in a 
brawl about some rustled cattle, and Argus by Mercury, who lulled him 
to sleep while he was guarding Io (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1. 713-23). 

2.26 Philodespotus: ‘master-loving’. 

Pentheus or Orpheus: in the Latin pretentiously paraphrased as ‘the 
proud Aonian (i.e. Theban) young man’ and ‘the Pipleian (i.e. Pierian, 
dear to the Muses) bard’. Both were torn to pieces by Bacchantes (1.13), 
Pentheus for defying the power of Dionysus (Bacchus), Orpheus for 
shunning the love of women. Neither illustration is particularly apposite; 
Thelyphron likes showing off his schoolroom acquaintance with classical 
literature, in this case Euripides’ Bacchae and Ovid’s Metamorphoses 
(11.1-66) respectively. 

Page 203 

2.28 divine Providence: on the part played in the novel by Providence see 
Introduction, §11; and on Fortune see 7.2 and note. 

Zatchlas: a unique and exotic name, variously interpreted by scholars; 
it may or may not have been correctly transmitted in the manuscripts. 
The episode is generally seen as a demonstration of the beneficent power 
of Isis as contrasted with the malevolence of the witches and as a further 
warning to Lucius, disregarded like all the others, not to meddle 
ignorantly with magic. However, it should be noted that the Isiac priest 
in Heliodorus’ Ethiopica specifically rejects necromancy as corrupt and 
unclean: ‘the prophetic powers of priests proceed from legitimate 
sacrifices and pure prayer’ (6. 14. 7; see also 3. 16. 3). It looks as if 
Apuleius got carried away, perhaps by reminiscence of one of the most 
famous necromantic scenes in Latin literature, the performance of the 
witch Erichtho in Lucan’s Pharsalia (6. 507-830). On Apuleius’ 
reliability as a witness to the details of Isiac cult, see 11.16 and note. 

with his head shaved bare: as Lucius’ will eventually be (11.28, 30). 

Coptos... Memphis... Pharos: centres of Isiac worship. 

the risings of Nile: always in antiquity and indeed down to modern 
times a subject of wonder and speculation. See, for instance, the elaborate 
exposition by Kalasiris, priest of Memphis, in Heliodorus’ Ethiopica (2. 

sistrums: rattles used in Isiac ceremonies; see the description at 11.4. 

2.31 the god of Laughter: apparently invented by Apuleius, along with 
his festival, as the peg on which to hang another cautionary episode. 

some suitably lavish adornment: literally ‘some material that the great 
god could flowingly wear’, a rather laboured play on the two senses of 
materia, ‘literary material’ and ‘fabric’. Lucius thinks that he is being 
invited to write an ode or speech in honour of Laughter; in fact he 
himself will be the material for the jest, and his (for everybody but 
himself) mirth-provoking speech will be in his own defence. Byrrhena’s 
words ‘provide some witty diversion’ turn out to be highly ironic. 

2.32 Geryon: a giant with three bodies; Lucius implicitly equates himself 
with Hercules, who killed Geryon as one of his twelve Labours. 

Page 204 


3.1 Rosy-fingered Dawn: Apuleius exploits a Homeric cliche. On his 
epicizing descriptions of daybreak, see 2.1 and note. 

3.2 at the bar of the court: on the relationship, or lack of it, between this 
trial and that at 10.7-12 to contemporary legal realities, see Introduction, 
§ 6 . 

the coffering of the ceiling: the details of Apuleius’ descriptions are 
sometimes hard to pin down. He evidently envisages a theatre on the 
Roman pattern with a roofed stage backed by a high wall elaborately 
embellished with columns, pedimented niches, and statuary. 

the orchestra: the space, circular in Greek theatres, semicircular in 
Roman, between the stage and the front row of seats. 

3.3 ran off drop by drop: the water-clock ( clepsydra ) was a familiar 
device; it is typical of Apuleius to provide this careful description of it, 
not so clear what he thought was the point of doing so. 

3.7 second father: the word used, parens, is often used to describe 
relationships other than the strictly paternal (compare French parent ); 
Hanson renders ‘uncle’, Walsh ‘patron’. At 7.3 Lucius refers to his alleged 
crime against Milo as parricide (see note). 

3.8 by torture: the evidence of slaves was routinely taken under torture in 
the classical period. Roman citizens were legally exempt from torture, 
but by Apuleius’ time this rule was not infrequently breached (J. A. 
Crook, Law and Life of Rome, 1967, pp. 274-5). The point here, however, 
is that by his conduct Lucius has degraded himself to the level of a slave 
and this treatment is no more than he deserves. This is clear to the 
thoughtful reader and ought to be clear to Lucius himself; the 
townspeople of Hypata are intent only on their sadistic fun. 

3.9 Greek-style: the wheel was a characteristically Greek instrument of 
torture; it crops up again at 10.10. The victim was stretched on it while 
the fire or the scourge was applied. 

Proserpine. . . Orcus: Proserpine (Greek Persephone) was queen of the 
Underworld, Orcus (Greek Hades, Pluto) its king. 

3.11 author and actor: Lucius has been both plot and protagonist of the 

among its patrons: in the real world a patronus was a sort of 
ambassador, a man of substance and influence appointed to watch over 
the city’s interests at Rome. Lucius’ appointment, like the statue which 
he tactfully declines, is purely honorific. Apuleius records that he 

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himself received similar honours from more than one city ( Florida , 16). 

3.13 resulted in your humiliation: Photis is not made to explain the sequel 
to her part of the story; the reader is left to infer that the subsequent 
performance must have been set up by Milo when he discovered what 
had happened. This is typical of Apuleius’ often cavalier way with the 
details of his narrative. 

3.15 initiated in several cults: nothing more is heard of these previous 
initiations, but Apuleius himself had indeed been initiated in more than 
one Greek cult ( Apology , 55). This is another hint of the eventual quasi- 
identification of Lucius with his creator. 

3.17 plaques inscribed with mysterious characters: i.e. spells and curses. 
Many examples of such lead tablets have survived; Pamphile’s would no 
doubt mostly be intended to bind her love- victims. 

3.18 like another Ajax: enraged by the award of the arms of the dead 
Achilles to Ulysses instead of himself, he set out to kill him, but being 
driven mad by Ulysses’ protector Athene slaughtered a flock of sheep 
instead. The story was familiar from Sophocles’ play Ajax. 

an utricide: uter = ‘a skin bag’. 

3.19 even with women of my own class: the Latin is matronalium 
amplexuum, ‘the embraces of matrons’. A young bachelor of good family 
in search of sexual satisfaction had, for practical reasons, to choose 
between resorting to household slaves or prostitutes or intriguing with 
married women. Though Augustus’ Lex Iulia de adulteriis had made 
adultery a criminal offence, married women, as in most ages, frequently 
took lovers. Lucius had hitherto high-mindedly set his face against 
yielding to sensuality even to the extent of what was generally condoned 
by society. His total enslavement to Photis, herself a slave, represents 
abrupt and catastrophic moral degradation, as the priest of Isis eventually 
tells him (11.15). 

3.20 offered herself to me like a boy: the idea of this as a stimulating 
extra is evidently borrowed from Martial: ‘All night long I enjoyed a 
wanton girl, whose naughtinesses no man can exhaust. Tired by a 
thousand different modes, I asked for the boy routine; before I begged or 
started to beg, she gave it in full’ (9. 67. 1-4, trans. Shackleton Bailey). 

3.21 an owl: Bubo, the eagle-owl, proverbially a bird of ill omen. It was a 
common belief (like the more modern fantasy about broomsticks) that 
witches transformed themselves into birds. 

3.22 a boon that I can never repay: irremunerabili beneficio, the identical 
phrase later used by Lucius to characterize the ‘unspeakable pleasure’ 

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with which as an initiate he contemplates the image of Isis; another hint 
of Photis’ role as anti- or false Isis (1.23 and note). 

the local wolf-pack: lupula means both ‘she-wolf and ‘whore’. 

3.25 an ass: as in English, so to the ancients ‘ass’ connoted stupidity; so 
Lucius at 10.13, ‘I was not such a fool or an actual ass...’. But asses have 
also always been proverbial for their obstinacy; and Lucius continues to 
be as resolutely deaf to admonition after his metamorphosis as he was 
before it. The moral of the tale of Cupid and Psyche, for instance, is 
completely lost on him. 

3.26 this vile and infamous creature: this, apart from a handful of 
maledictions in passing (7.14, 9.15, 11.20), is the last we hear of her. 
Though her role in the story is, strictly speaking, symbolic, Apuleius has 
gone out of his way, building it is true on her original, Palaestra, to 
depict her by no means unsympathetically; her affection for Lucius is 
genuine enough and without ulterior motives. This can be seen to lend 
force to the argument: false pleasure does not immediately proclaim its 

the red-carpet treatment: in the Latin a technical term for the 
entertainment accorded to ambassadors. 

3.27 Epona: goddess of beasts of burden, worshipped by their drivers. 

‘How long, for God’s sake’: Quo usque tandem, the famous opening 
words of Cicero’s denunciation of Catiline in his first Catilinarian oration; 
see 8.23 and note. This is the first of several abortive attempts on Lucius’ 
part to eat roses (3.29, 4.1-2, 7.15) and also the occasion of the first of 
the many merciless beatings he endures. The whole episode is a foretaste 
of the long series of privations, frustrations and torments which the 
violent entry of the robbers is about to set in motion. As usual, Apuleius 
handles the details cavalierly, ignoring the problems which he set himself 
when he decided to graft this episode on to his Greek original; the reader 
is left to wonder where the groom was when Lucius was introduced into 
the stable and why, never having set eyes on him before, he talks as if he 
were an old offender. 

3.28 Suddenly: nee mora, cum; a favourite phrase of Apuleius’, here 
heralding the first of the many violent and more often than not 
unmotivated peripeties on which the narrative hinges. On the part 
played by brigandage in the novel, see 1.7 and note. 

they were not checkmated: this renders a technical term from a board- 
game, possibly that called ludus latrunculorum, ‘Bandits’. 

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4.2 that festive flower: the rose, as now, was associated with love and 
pleasure; Achilles Tatius calls it ‘Aphrodite’s go-between’ (2. 1. 3). 

Success: Bonus Eventus, ‘Prosperous Outcome’, was one of the many 
abstractions forming the subject of Roman cults; Lucius does not finally 
encounter him until 11.28. His counterpart, ‘111 Success’, appears at 4.19. 

laurel-roses: oleanders. 

4.4 a discharge on medical grounds: Apuleius uses the technical military 
term, missio causaria. 

4.5 threw him still breathing off the edge of the cliff: this was still the way 
in which donkeys that had met with an accident or had otherwise 
outlived their usefulness were disposed of in the Spanish village where 
Gerald Brenan lived in the 1920s (South from Granada, Harmondsworth, 
1963, pp. 114-15). 

4.6 The subject and the occasion itself demand: a stock formula used by 
historians, orators and poets to underline the significance of a 
topographical description. Unlike the passage on Byrrhena’s house (2.4 
and note), this elaborate treatment of the robbers’ cave, on the narrator’s 
own admission, serves no purpose except to display his descriptive 
talents. As often in Apuleius, the details are not always easy to visualize 
precisely; it is the general effect that is impressive. 

as I later discovered: as will appear, he does not have very long to 
become acquainted with the robbers’ routine. See 9.41 and note. 

4.8 the Lapiths and Centaurs all over again: another display of rather 
superficial erudition. The Lapiths were a Thessalian people. At the 
wedding of their king Pirithous to Hippodamia, to which the Centaurs 
were invited as the bride’s kinsmen, one of them tried to carry her off 
and a bloody battle ensued. Ovid had told the story in the Metamorphoses 
(12. 210-535), and the subject was much favoured by poets and artists. 

Lamachus: one of the generals in command of the Athenian expedition 
to Sicily in 415 BC, killed in action. The name means ‘Fighter for the 

4.9 seven-gated Thebes: the Homeric epithet lends mock dignity to his 

Chryseros: ‘lovegold’. 

the expense of public office: wealthy citizens were expected, and 
might be compelled, to take on offices which entailed considerable 

Page 20 8 

expenditure on games and other entertainments. Demochares (4.13) and 
Thiasus (10.18) are cases in point. 

4.10 into the keyhole: we are not well enough informed about the locking 
mechanisms of Roman doors to assess the plausibility of Lamachus’ 
attempt; the likelihood is that Apuleius, as often, was more interested in 
creating a dramatic denouement than in technical detail. The episode was 
later gruesomely exploited by Charles Reade in ch. 33 of The Cloister and 
the Hearth. See 9.37 and note. 

the safety of them all: Chryseros was indeed crafty; an alarm of fire in 
a crowded city was the surest way to bring everybody out on to the street 
to help, whereas the prospect of encountering armed robbers would have 
been a deterrent. 

4.11 a whole element as his tomb: this resounding flourish is designed to 
recall the words attributed by Thucydides (2. 43) to Pericles: ‘the whole 
earth is the sepulchre of famous men’. Thebes is only some fifteen miles 
from the sea, so that the necessary detour is not perhaps as glaringly 
implausible as some commentators make out; the real oddity is the 
choice of the sea as a hero’s grave. Burial for the ancients meant burial on 
land; the idea of being abandoned to the fishes to devour was regarded 
with horror. 

4.12 Alcimus: ‘stalwart’. Text and interpretation of this sentence are 

His rib-cage... from deep inside him: these details are lifted from epic 
descriptions of the deaths of warriors in battle; though Alcimus’ end is 
ignominious he dies with some literary dignity. 

4.13 Demochares: ‘people-pleaser’. 

an elaborate timber structure: the text is too uncertain to allow a clear 
idea, if he had one himself, of what exactly Apuleius is describing. 
Compare the elaborate staging of the pantomime at Corinth (10.30, 34). 

4.14 Envy- Fortune in another guise. 

Eubulus: ‘good counsellor’. 

4.15 Thrasyleon: ‘lionheart’. 

4.18 our appointment with plunder: Apuleius is fond of playing with the 
legal term uadimonium, a promise to appear in court. Isis uses the same 
terminology when pledging Lucius to her service (11.6 and note). Here 
the bandits’ proceedings are dignified by this veneer of legal language and 
the preceding reference to professional practice, disciplina sectae. 

4.19 III Success: Scaevus Eventus, ‘Unlucky Outcome’, the opposite of 

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Bonus Eventos (4.2 and note), Fortune in yet another guise. 

4.21 his life... his glory, the conceit, repeated and varied at the end of the 
chapter, can be paralleled from actual gravestones; the form of the 
expression is redolent of the declamatory exercises on which Apuleius 
would have cut his rhetorical teeth. 

gone to live among the spirits of the dead: a variation on a theme 
which goes back at least to Hesiod, who laments that Shame and 
Righteous Indignation will quit the earth in disgust to dwell among the 
gods ( Works and Days, 199-200). In picturing Good Faith (Fides) as 
taking refuge in hell rather than heaven Apuleius had been anticipated by 
Petronius ( Satyricon , 124. 249-53). 

mourning the loss of three comrades: another epic touch, an echo of 
the Homeric formula ‘We sailed on grieving at heart, glad to have escaped 
death, but having lost our dear comrades’ ( Odyssey , 9. 62-3, a/.). 

4.22 a real Salian banquet: the lavish repasts of the College of Saliares, 
priests of Mars, were famous. 

4.26 a Son of the People: filium publicum; the official conferment of such 
titles is attested in inscriptions. 

Attis and Protesilaus: she too has had a classical education. Attis was a 
vegetation god associated with Cybele about whom many legends 
clustered; Apuleius appears to be referring to one said by Pausanias (7. 
17. 5) to be the best known, in which he went mad and castrated himself 
at his wedding. The newly-married Protesilaus was the first Greek hero 
to be killed at Troy; his wife Laodamia is the writer of the eighth of 
Ovid’s Letters of Heroines ( Heroides ). Unless the allusion is to a version of 
the story in which the marriage was not consummated, it does not seem 
especially apt. 

4.27 the opposite of what actually happens: so Artemidorus ( Onirocritica , 
2. 49-51), and still conventional wisdom. This dream, however, turned 
out to be false (8.5). 

pretty: lepidus (see 1.1 and note). Lucius predictably receives the 
story in this spirit (6.25 and note). 

4.28 putting right thumb and forefinger to their lips: a ritual gesture of 

drops from heaven: a delicate allusion to the story of her birth told 
explicitly by Hesiod ( Theogony , 176-200): Cronus, having castrated his 
father Uranus (Heaven), threw his genitals into the sea, where they 
engendered Aphrodite (Venus), while from the drops of blood which fell 
on the earth there sprang the race of Giants and other superhuman 

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creatures. The story has already been discreetly hinted at (2.8), and when 
Venus visits Olympus, Heaven, her father, opens to receive her (6.6). For 
another version of her parentage see 6.7 and note. 

4.29 Paphos... Cnidos... Cythera: important centres of her cult. 

4.30 nurturer of the whole world: she characterizes herself in terms 
which recall the Lucretian Venus, the great originating principle of the 
universe. The rhetoric and tone of her speech, however, recall Virgil’s 
Juno and her implacable persecution of Aeneas and the Trojans ( Aeneid , 
7. 308-10). Her words also foreshadow the epiphany of Isis, who is the 
true, celestial, Venus ( caelestis Venus, 11.2; cf. 11.5). This Venus, at least 
at this stage, is firmly earthbound. See Introduction, §9. 

the shepherd: Paris, ordered by Jupiter to adjudicate the prize of 
beauty claimed by Venus, Juno and Minerva. The episode will be 
depicted in the pantomime elaborately described at 10.30-32. The 
reference to his ‘impartial fairness’ is ironical; all the goddesses tried to 
bribe him, and Venus won because her bribe, marriage to Helen, was the 
most attractive. 

that winged son of hers: Cupid (Eros, Love) makes his first appearance 
in his familiar literary guise as a mischievous boy, irresponsibly using 
his arrows and his fire to vex gods and mortals alike. He is not named 
until Psyche finally sees him, to her undoing (5.22 and note). 

4.31 the honeyed burns: a typically Apuleian variation on the age-old idea 
of love as bittersweet (2.10 and note). 

open-mouthed and closely pressed: like those of Photis (2.10) and 
those promised as the reward for informing on Psyche (6.8). This is very 
definitely not Venus caelestis. 

her enemy the Sun: she had three reasons for disliking him: (1) ladies 
in antiquity, let alone the goddess of love herself, did not cultivate sun- 
tan; (2) fire and water (her native element) were incompatible; (3) it was 
the all-seeing Sun (1.5) who had given away her affair with Mars 
(Homer, Odyssey, 8. 302; Ovid, Ars amatoria, 2. 573-4, Metamorphoses, 4. 
171-4, 190-92). 

the retinue that escorted Venus: this description is heavily indebted to 
literary models, especially Homer (Iliad, 18. 39-48), Virgil (Aeneid, 5. 
240-42, 823-4), and the Hellenistic poet Moschus (Europa, 115-24). 
Nereus was father of the sea-nymphs; Portunus was the god of harbours 
( portus ); Salacia was an old Roman marine goddess connected by 
etymologists with salum, ‘sea’; Palaemon, often depicted by artists astride 
a dolphin, as here, was originally Melicertes, changed into a sea-god by 
Neptune (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4. 531-42); Tritons, human above the 

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waist, piscine below, were Neptune’s traditional escort. 

4.32 replied in Latin: Apuleius goes out of his way to shatter the 
dramatic illusion with this arch reference to the literary character of his 
story (1.1 and note) and the fact that, though purporting to be told by a 
native Greek speaker, it is written in Latin. As well as being in the wrong 
language, the god’s reply is in the wrong metre, elegiac couplets; Apollo 
always answered in hexameters. Apuleius is not alone in this last 
delinquency; in Heliodorus the Pythia similarly delivers herself in 
elegiacs ( Ethiopica , 2. 26. 5, 2. 35. 5). See also 9.8 and note. It was 
generally considered a breach of literary decorum to mix Greek and Latin 
in the same book, at least if it had pretensions to literary status; Apuleius 
indicates his respect for this ‘rule’ at 9.39, where he translates the 
soldier’s Greek. He allows himself once to use a Greek technical term in 
an Isiac ritual (11.17). He has no such inhibitions in the Apology, which 
is full of Greek quotations. By Apuleius’ day the Pythia was delivering 
her oracles in prose. 

4.33 For funeral wedlock: the punishment of Psyche’s involuntary 
offence is to be exposed on a rock for a monster to carry her off. This 
recalls the fate of Andromeda, made to atone in the same way for her 
mother’s boasting of her own beauty. The story was popular; it was the 
subject of a lost tragedy by Euripides and would have been familiar to 
Roman readers from Ovid ( Metamorphoses , 4. 670-739). The detail that 
Andromeda was dressed as a bride had been exploited by Manilius 
( Astronomica , 5. 545-8); and Achilles Tatius describes a picture of her ‘in 
a wedding dress like a bride adorned for Death’ (3. 7. 5). In what follows 
Apuleius goes on to exploit the conceit in terms of a favourite paradox of 
Hellenistic epigram, the bride who dies on her wedding day. 

regards with fear: no ancient reader could have been in doubt for a 
moment over the identity of this ‘monster’. Its attributes, wings, fire 
(torches) and steel (arrows) have already been alluded to (4.30), and Love 
was the only power in the mythological universe of whom all the other 
gods, the river Styx included, went in dread. 

4.34 herself encouraged them: Psyche’s speech is that of a tragic heroine 
such as Iphigenia or Macaria or Polyxena, doomed to be sacrificed for the 
people. A similar disregard for superficial plausibility (aside from the 
fact that this story is supposed to be told by a presumably illiterate old 
woman) is evident in her elaborate prayers to Ceres and Juno (6.2, 4). 

my spirit rather: the idea of a shared soul is most familiar in the 
context of erotic love, but Euripides had used it of family ties ( Alcestis , 
882-4) and Ovid of the love of husband and wife ( Metamorphoses , 11. 
388). Compare Charite’s speech at 8.12. In the first of several plays on 

Page 212 

Psyche’s name Apuleius exploits the ambiguity of spiritus, meaning both 
‘breath (of life)’ and ‘soul’. 

4.35 Zephyr: the West Wind, harbinger of spring and so apt for the 
service of the son of Venus; in some genealogies he was Eros’ father. 
Winds were in the business of abducting girls, and Ovid had cast 
Zephyrus in this role (Fasti, 5. 201-4). Perseus was airborne when he 
rescued Andromeda. 


5.1 What she now saw: the description of this divine stately home 
belongs to a literary tradition which goes back to Homer’s depiction of 
the palace and gardens of Alcinous ( Odyssey , 7. 84-132) and which is 
represented in the novel by the gardens which figure in Longus ( Daphnis 
and Chloe, 2.3.3-4, 4.2-3) and Achilles Tatius (1.1, 1.15). Apuleius also 
borrows from Ovid’s bravura description of the palace of the Sun 
( Metamorphoses , 2. 1-18). In real life, description of fine houses almost 
constituted a genre in its own right, as in the Silvae of Statius (1. 3, 1. 5, 
2. 2) and in Pliny’s letters about his villas ( Epistles , 2. 17, 5. 6). 

5.2 there is nothing that was not there: the Latin can also mean ‘what was 
not there is nothing’, i.e. does not exist, an allusive reminder that Love, in 
its true and highest form, is universal and all-sufficient. Psyche does not 
learn this truth until it is almost too late. 

All of it is yours: an ominous echo of the words of Byrrhena to Lucius 
(2.4 and note) in an identical setting, the wondering examination of a 
marvellous house. Like Lucius, Psyche will be the victim of ignoble 

5.4 her unknown husband: this is the primary meaning of ignobilis, but it 
also not uncommonly means ‘humble’, ‘base’, an ironical allusion to the 
outcast wretch to whom Cupid had been ordered to marry her (4.31). By 
this time it will have become clear to any moderately perceptive reader 
that he has flatly disobeyed those orders. 

5.6 obey the ruinous demands of your heart: the animus (Greek thumos ) 
which she is resignedly told to obey is the appetitive part of the soul 
( anima , Greek psuche ); the expression recalls Plato’s description of the 
man ‘who is ruled by desire’ ( Phaedrus , 238e). The image of enslavement 

Page 213 

to the passions occurs in Apuleius’ description in the Apology of Venus 
Vulgaria as ‘binding the bodies of all living things in servile bondage’ 
(12). Lucius, who is listening intently to this story, of course fails to take 
the point. 

impious curiosity: the first overt reference to the failing which, along 
with her naivety (5.11), is to be her undoing. 

whoever you are: under the surface irony of this speech a deeper and 
fundamental layer can be detected. Psyche has yet to learn, the hard way, 
what Love really is. What she thinks she loves is not Love itself but 
physical pleasure. 

5.9 the blindness... of Fortune: see 7.2 and note. 

shut up with bolts and bars: in contrast to the palace inhabited by 
Psyche (5.2), but in this context it sounds as if she is complaining at 
being kept locked up, whereas it is clear that she can come and go freely. 
The style of these complaints stereotypes the sisters as middle-class 
housewives such as those figuring in the series of inserted stories later in 
the novel rather than royal consorts. Nor is the tone of Venus’ haranguing 
of Cupid quite what one would expect of a goddess (5.29-30). 

5.11 you will not see it: i.e. he will disappear, but the paradox has a 
deeper significance: she will not recognize him, i.e. even when face to 
face with Love itself she will not comprehend its true nature. See 5.6 
whoever you are and note. 

he will be mortal: this son will turn out to be a daughter (6.24). If this 
is simple carelessness on Apuleius’ part, he almost goes out of his way to 
draw attention to it by making Cupid refer in the next chapter to ‘this 
little son of ours’. If it is a ‘deliberate mistake’ it is difficult to see the 
point of it. For down-to-earth common sense it would be hard to beat the 
explanation of Louis Purser: ‘Cupid did not necessarily know the future 
in every respect. Parents always assume that their first-born will be a 
boy; and when the sex is unknown, it is allowable to use the masculine.’ 

5.12 the Sirens: half women, half birds, they lured sailors to destruction 
by their song. 

5.17 an immense serpent: for the details of this horrific description 
Apuleius is heavily indebted to Virgil ( Georgies , 3. 425-39; Aeneid, 2. 
204-8). Psyche of course knows from experience that in the dark her 
husband’s shape is human; the unspoken premiss of the plot is that it is 
only by day that he is a serpent. When the sisters instruct Psyche to do 
the murder in the light they evidently expect an instant transformation; 
and this suggests that, though they themselves refer to their story as a 
fabrication (fallacias , 5.16), they believe it to be true. The scenario as a 

Page 214 

whole more or less hangs together and the narrative moves so quickly 
that the reader is not given time to think about the details, which, as 
often in Apuleius, do not stand close scrutiny. 

the Pythian oracle: it was the one at Miletus (4.32), but in this context 
the cult-title ‘Pythian’ is appropriate. The Python was the dragon which 
guarded the Delphic oracle until Apollo killed it and took over. 

5.20 Take a very sharp blade... cut them apart: in the Latin a single long 
and continuously flowing sentence; the instructions are framed by the 
instrument, nouaculam, and the act, abscide, ‘cut’. 

5.21 the savage Furies who harried her: the irresolute heroine, 
agonizingly poised between equally dire alternative courses of action, is a 
familiar literary figure; Apuleius’ chief indebtedness is to Ovid’s 
portrayals in the Metamorphoses of such women as Procne, Althaea, 
Byblis and Myrrha. 

5.22 cruel Fate: as not infrequently, the distinction between Fate and 
Fortune, the usual instrument of malignant supernatural intervention in 
the novel, is blurred. 

was gladdened and flared up: because it could now fulfil its traditional 
role, of which it had hitherto been cheated, of confidant and voyeur: see 
2.11 and note, 5.23, 8.10. 

dripping with ambrosia: here a perfume, at 6.23 a drink (see note). 

the gracious weapons of the great god: what at his first appearance 
had been depicted as the toys of a naughty unbiddable child and what his 
mother later claims as her ‘gear’ (5.29) are now transformed into the 
awe-inspiring attributes of a mighty god. It is this Cupid, Amor I 
(Introduction, §9), who from now on controls the action. 

5.25 to scorch even water: Apuleius may well have in mind Ovid’s 
catalogue of amorous rivers at Amores, 3. 6. 23ff. 

Pan: as a country god and a veteran of many amorous exploits he is 
naturally an expert on love; when Philetas instructs Daphnis and Chloe in 
the art of love it is Pan on whom he calls for help (Longus, Daphnis and 
Chloe, 2. 7. 6). With his list of symptoms compare that at 10.2; such 
inventories were a commonplace of poetry and romance from Sappho 

aware no matter how. clearly briefed by Cupid (Amor I); the first hint 
that he is at work behind the scenes. 

5.26 take your chattels with you... in due form: another intrusion of 
specifically Roman references, particularly jarring in this timeless 

Page 215 

fairytale. Psyche reports Cupid as using the technical legal terminology of 
divorce and marriage, the latter in its most ancient and solemn form, 
confarreatio, virtually obsolete long before Apuleius’ time. See also 5.29 
and note. 

5.27 fell to a similar death: attempts have been made to invest the deaths 
of the sisters with symbolic significance, but the perfunctory manner in 
which the episode is handled suggests that Apuleius’ principal 
preoccupation was to get them out of the way once they had served their 
turn and to gratify the normal human wish to see villains come to a 
sticky end. He makes no effort to mitigate the inconsistency in 
characterization by which the naive and credulous Psyche suddenly and 
briefly becomes as crafty and vindictive as her wicked sisters. 

5.30 your father’s estate: more legal language (5.26 and note), suggesting 
a divorce or judicial separation from her husband; see below on 5.30. 

expose... abuse... battering me: he behaves like a typical spoilt child, 
but the words also imply that he turns his weapons on her and ‘strips’ 
her (the word is denudas), i.e. leaves her defenceless by constantly 
making her fall in love. Venus was usually depicted naked by artists. This 
tirade is indebted to Aphrodite’s complaints about Eros in Apollonius’ 
Argonautica (3. 91-9). See also 5.31 and note. 

your stepfather: her husband was Vulcan (Hephaestus), Mars (Ares) 
her lover, at least in the version most generally familiar. The idea that she 
had somehow disposed of Vulcan and remarried seems to have been 
borrowed from Ovid, who is the only other writer to refer to Mars as 
Cupid’s stepfather ( Amores , 1. 2. 24, 2. 9. 48; Remedia amoris, 27). 

his infidelities: they were many and various. 

groomed with nectar from my own breasts: sense uncertain. 

5.31 Ceres and Juno: the following scene is loosely modelled on the 
episode in Apollonius’ Argonautica in which Hera and Athene approach 
Aphrodite to enlist the aid of Eros in their schemes (see above on ch. 30). 
Hera there assures Aphrodite that his behaviour will improve. 


6.2 There is Venus in her rage: though in her funeral speech Psyche had 

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implied that she was the victim of Venus’ jealousy, this is the first 
explicit revelation of the fact vouchsafed to her. 

an elaborate prayer: too elaborate and learned, like that to Juno, to be 
plausible in Psyche’s mouth. The allusions (see next note) to the rape and 
rescue of Proserpine foreshadow her own Catabasis (6.16 and note) and 
the symbolic death and resurrection of Lucius in the first of his three 
initiations (11.23 and note). 

the furrows of the Sicilian fields... conceals in silence: Ceres’ 
(Demeter’s) daughter Proserpine (Persephone) was carried off from 
Henna in Sicily down to the Underworld by Pluto (Dis, Hades). Ceres 
secured her return by preventing the crops from growing, but as 
Proserpine had eaten some pomegranate seeds (the number varies) 
during her imprisonment, she was obliged to spend a part of every year 
underground. In this ancient nature-myth Proserpine represents the 
regenerative power of the seed-corn, which must be buried each year and 
lie in darkness during the winter, to be reborn each spring. Ceres’ most 
famous cult-centre was at Eleusis near Athens, where every year the story 
was symbolically re-enacted for initiates in conditions, supposedly, of 
strict religious secrecy. Apuleius probably expected his readers to 
remember Ovid’s treatment of the story ( Metamorphoses , 5. 341-571), in 
which it is at Venus’ instigation that Pluto is shot by Cupid and so 
inspired with love for Proserpine. Ceres therefore has good reason to be 
wary of crossing this pair. 

6.3 a thoroughly good sort: after the lofty tone of Psyche’s invocation, 
Ceres’ reply is chillingly matter-of-fact. Venus is a relative and a crony, 
and Ceres must keep on her right side. Juno’s reply is similarly prosaic 
(6.4 and note). 

6.4 Samos... Carthage... Argos: a good example of syncretism, the fusing 
of originally distinct deities and their cults. Juno is identified with Hera, 
whose chief cult centres were at Samos and Argos, and also with the 
Carthaginian Tanit, represented as riding on a lion. Psyche artfully 
associates these places with the chronology of the goddess’s life as child, 
young girl, and wife and mother. The form of her prayer reflects actual 

Zygia... Lucina: Zygia, ‘Yoker’ renders in Greek her Latin title luga or 
Iugalis ( iugum , ‘yoke’), symbolizing her role as goddess of marriage; 
Lucina is more usually identified with Diana (Artemis) as goddess of 
childbirth because, according to the ancient etymology, she brought the 
new-born to light (lux). It is appropriate that the pregnant Psyche should 
invoke Juno in this capacity. 

prevented by the laws: by this anachronistic reference to specifically 

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Roman legislation Juno, like Ceres, brings matters down to earth with a 

6.6 Heaven... Aether: her father and grandfather. On Uranus and the 
circumstances of her birth see 4.28 and note. 

6.7 the loud-voiced god: so called as herald of the gods, now impressed as 
town-crier (6.8 and note). 

Arcadian brother: he was born on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. Venus’ 
greeting presupposes an alternative genealogy in which she was daughter 
of Jupiter and Dione. Mercury’s (Hermes’) mythological character is that 
of, among other things, an accomplished liar, which makes him an 
appropriate assistant in amatory intrigue. 

6.8 Passing far and wide among the peoples: a discreetly learned allusion, 
playing on the Stoic identification of Mercury as the divine logos (word) 
and on the etymology of his Latin name as medius currens, ‘because 
speech ( sermo ) runs about among men’ (Varro, Antiquities, fragment 
250). This is the sort of ploy which helps to tell against the assumption 
that the ancient novel had a mass readership. 

made proclamation: it is clearly modelled on a well-known poem by 
the Hellenistic poet Moschus, ‘Love the runaway’, in which the reward is 
promised by Venus herself (1-5); but the form of the announcement, 
beginning with the formula si quis..., ‘If any man...’, is taken from such 
advertisements in real life, as surviving inscriptions show. 

the South turning-point of the Circus: where the shrine of Venus 
Murcia was situated. Another anachronistic allusion, in this case, 
however, far from gratuitous. The Circus Maximus was a notorious 
haunt of prostitutes; and the description of the promised reward 
implicitly reduces Venus (Venus II: see Introduction, §9) to precisely that 
level, the level of Photis and the servile pleasures to which Lucius 

Habit: Consuetudo; that love was a creature of habit was a traditional 
idea (Lucretius, De rerum natura, 4. 1283; Ovid, Ars amatoria, 2. 345, 
Remedia amoris, 503; Chariton, 5. 9. 9; Achilles Tatius, 1. 9. 5). Psyche 
herself had experienced the truth of it (5.4), as Thrasyllus will (8.2). 

6.9 laughed shrilly: ironical; her Homeric epithet was ‘laughter- loving’. 

it will be born a bastard: more anachronistic legalism, possibly 
embodying a sly allusion to Apuleius’ own brush with the law; it was one 
of the charges against him that his marriage to Pudentilla took place in 
the country, in uilla (Apology, 67, 88). These words are picked up by 
Jupiter at 6.23. 

Page 21 8 

6.10 the great god’s bedfellow: this is the first overt indication that it is 
indeed Cupid who is helping Psyche behind the scenes. 

6.12 source of sweet music: because used to make the panpipes. 

6.13 Styx... Cocytus: Underworld rivers. Venus’ house, it seems, is not, as 
one would expect, on Olympus, but somewhere in the Peloponnese, 
within easy reach of Taenarus (6.18 and note). It is not clear what she 
wants with this water. Its traditional role was that of a lie-detector: it was 
the Styx by which the gods took their oaths (6.15), and the consequences 
of perjury were dire (Hesiod, Theogony, 793-804). 

6.15 the Phrygian cupbearer: Ganymede (see 1.12 and note). 

6.16 to the Underworld: in the last of Psyche’s ordeals Apuleius exploits 
a familiar literary theme, the Catabasis or Descent to Hades. Homer 
(Odyssey, 11. 568-635), Aristophanes (Frogs; see next note), Virgil 
(Georgies, 4. 467-84, Aeneid, 6. 268-899) and Ovid (Metamorphoses, 4. 
432-80) had all been there before him; it is Aeneas’ visit to the 
Underworld in Aeneid, VI which he chiefly lays under contribution. 

6.17 for a certain lofty tower: the idea that jumping off a tower is the 
most convenient route to Hades can only have been suggested to Apuleius 
by Heracles’ sarcastic advice to Dionysus in Aristophanes’ play Frogs 
(127-33). Visitors to Hell need a guide, Circe in Homer, Heracles in 
Aristophanes, the Sibyl in Virgil; a tower in this role - Cupid’s other 
intermediaries are all living things - gives a new and unexpected turn to 
this old theme. 

6.18 Taenarus: Cape Matapan, the southernmost point of the 
Peloponnese and one of the traditional entrances to Hades; another was 
Lake Avernus (2.11 and note). 

a lame donkey... with a lame driver: the significance of this encounter, 
which sounds as if it should in some way relate to the adventures of 
Lucius-as-ass, has never been satisfactorily explained. See also 11.8 and 
note for a similarly enigmatic pair. 

to haul him aboard: this ‘temptation’ was evidently suggested by the 
episode in the Virgilian Catabasis in which the dead Palinurus begs 
Aeneas for a lift across the Styx and is refused, because as an unburied 
corpse he is ineligible to enter (Aeneid, 6. 337-83). 

6.19 some old women weavers: this reverses a common theme; such old 
women were apt to turn out to be goddesses in disguise, to whom it was 
advisable to be helpful. 

a huge dog: Cerberus. 

Page 21 9 

the empty house of Dis: an allusion to Virgil’s ‘empty halls of Dis and 
his desolate kingdom’ (Aeneid, 6. 269, trans. David West), ‘a world of 
phantom dwellings, homes of hollow men’ (R. G. Austin). 

ask for some coarse bread: considering the fate of Proserpine herself 
(6.2 and note), one would expect a total prohibition of eating. 

6.20 in private: necessarily so, since she could not be allowed to see the 
trap that was being set for her. The theme of the message which is the 
death-warrant of the bearer is familiar from the stories of Bellerophon 
(Homer, Iliad, 6. 166-95), Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 11:14-27), and 
Hamlet; but how is Proserpine or whoever fills the box supposed to 
know Venus’ real wishes? This is another of the numerous loose ends in 
Apuleius’ rapid narrative. 

6.22 became himself again: Cupid is now abruptly transformed from all- 
powerful god to ailing apprehensive child, Amor I reverting to his first 
appearance as Amor II. Given the need to end the story on a light-hearted 
note - it is meant to cheer the captive Charite up - it is appropriate that 
the last scene should be played as high comedy in the setting of a 
traditional Olympus, but this denouement inevitably compromises the 
fundamental symbolic function of the tale as an allegory of the human 
soul in quest of love in its highest, divine, guise - which of course makes 
it all the easier for Lucius to miss its application to his own case. 

the Lex Julia: passed in 18 BC, it made adultery a criminal offence. 

into... base shapes: this catalogue draws on Ovid’s list of Jupiter’s 
disguises in the Metamorphoses (6. 103-14). 

you are bound to pay me back: perhaps to be read as an aside; Jupiter 
is not only incorrigible but unrepentant. 

6.23 to summon all the gods... to assembly, the Council of the gods is a 
stock feature of epic from Homer onwards and a favourite subject of 
burlesque. The idea of making the gods follow the procedures of the 
Roman Senate seems to have been first hit on by the satirist Lucilius 
(second century BC) and was further exploited by Seneca in his 
Apocolocyntosis and by Ovid in the Metamorphoses (1. 167-76). 

in accordance with the civil law: see 6.9 and note. A prosaic 
conclusion to a reassurance which had begun on a lofty note with a 
reminiscence of his great speech to Venus at the beginning of the Aeneid 
(1. 257-8). 

brought by Mercury: now in his role, here reversed, of conductor of 
souls to the Underworld (Psychopompus). 

a cup of ambrosia: more usually a food, but occasionally a drink, as 

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here, or a perfume (5.22 and note). At the banquet they drink nectar, as 
one would expect. 

6.24 Liber... Vulcan: Bacchus pours himself out in the shape of wine, 
Vulcan cooks the dinner in the shape of fire, an example of the common 
figure of speech called metonymy. 

whom we call Pleasure: Apuleius springs a surprise (5.11 and note). 
The idea is a leitmotiv of the novel. In its immediate context the birth of 
this divine child can be read both as an encouragement to Chari te to hope 
for a happy outcome to her own sufferings and as a restoration to the 
world of the true pleasure of love of which it was deprived by the joint 
secession of Venus and Cupid (5.28). In the larger context of the book as a 
whole it foreshadows the ‘inexpressible pleasure’ which Lucius is to 
experience in contemplating the image of Isis after his initiation (11.24), 
which effaces and replaces the false ’servile pleasures’ offered by Photis 
(11.15). In the writer’s syncretistic vision of Venus-Isis can also be 
detected the lineaments of Lucretius’ Venus (4.30 and note), identified by 
him in the first line of the De rerum natura as ‘pleasure of gods and men’, 
the Epicurean hedone. 

6.25 such a pretty story: bellam, a variation on lepidus (see 1.1 and note), 
the old woman’s description (4.27 and note); Lucius of course takes the 
story at (her) face value. The author puts in a momentary appearance to 
remind us that the story will eventually indeed be written down - for it 
now has been. See also 6.29 and note. 

6.27 Dirce: she was tied to a wild bull by Zethus and Amphion as a 
punishment for her cruel treatment of their mother Antiope. The story 
had been dramatized by Euripides in his lost play Antiope. 

6.29 immortalized in the pages of the learned: another reminder (2.12, 

6.25 and notes) of the off-stage presence of the author. 

Phrixus... Arion... Europa: Phrixus escaped across the Hellespont from 
his stepmother Ino on the back of the ram with the golden fleece; Arion 
was rescued from his murderers by a dolphin; Europa was abducted by 
Zeus (Jupiter) in the shape of a bull. 

apportionment of the road: another of Apuleius’ legal pleasantries, 
using technical language; compare the miller at 9.27. 

6.30 Pegasus: the winged horse born from drops of blood from the head 
of the Gorgon Medusa, cut off by Perseus; ridden by Bellerophon when he 
killed the Chimaera. Compare 7.26, 8.16 and notes. 

from a branch of a tall cypress tree: not the obvious choice of tree for 
this particular purpose (see 8.18 and note), but the cypress was a symbol 

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of death. 

6.31 burned alive... thrown to the beasts... crucified : all, ironically, 
punishments prescribed for banditry. 

aiding and abetting: in the Latin more technical terminology, sequestro 
ministroque, ‘trustee and agent’. 


7.2 his slave: see 2.15 and note. 

portrayed Fortune as totally blind: the blindness of Fortune was 
proverbial (5.9, 8.24), but the idea is especially significant in The Golden 
Ass, where she is the antitype of provident and beneficent Isis, identified 
by her priest with ‘a Fortune that can see’ (11.15). On Fortune and 
Providence see Introduction, §11. 

7.3 parricide: the contemporary legal definition of parricide embraced 
murder of a kinsman or even a patron (3.7 and note). 

7.5 Haemus: a mountain range in Thrace, perhaps recalling poetic 
comparisons of warriors to mountains (Homer, Iliad, 13. 754; Virgil, 
Aeneid, 12. 701-3), perhaps also suggesting Greek haima, ‘blood’. 

Theron: ‘hunter’. 

7.6 a two-hundred-thousand man: on the various types of post held by 
procuratores, see OCD s.v. procurator. They were ranked in terms of their 
pay: 200,000 sesterces per annum was the second highest grade. 

Rotina: possibly intended to recall the exemplary wife of the emperor 
Trajan; Apuleius might have seen her commemorated on the coinage and 
she had a temple at Rome. 

Zacynthus: modern Zante, an island off the north-west Peloponnese; 
islands were often used as places of exile, as being easier to keep under 

7.7 Actium: a promontory on the coast of Acarnania, made famous as the 
place of Octavian’s victory over Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC. 

7.8 a mere donkey-woman: rather conspicuously dressed for the part, one 
would think. 

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7.10 Treasury Pleader: the office of advocatus fisci, according to the 
evidence, for what it is worth, of the Historia Augusta (Life of Hadrian, 
20. 6) had been established by Hadrian; the fiscus was the Imperial, as 
distinguished from the State, Treasury. 

7.11 whoever he is: this apparently gratuitous qualification ironically 
hints at Lucius’ ignorance of what will shortly be revealed, Haemus’ true 

7.12 Tlepolemus: ‘hardy warrior’, the name of the commander of the 
Rhodian contingent at Troy, a son of Heracles (Homer, Iliad, 2. 653). 

Charite: ‘grace’. 

7.13 manfully: the idiomatic sense of the phrase pro uirili parte is ‘to the 
best of my ability’, but here the literal sense of uirilis is also felt; Lucius 
displays human awareness of the occasion. 

7.16 deeds of valour at home and abroad: this has the ring of a quotation 
or parody of an official citation, but exact parallels for such a formula are 

the king of Thrace: Diomedes; Heracles’ eighth Labour was to capture 
these horses. In the most familiar version of the legend they were mares, 
but that would have spoiled the comparison. 

7.20 this salamander of an ass: text and interpretation uncertain. The 
salamander (actually a completely harmless amphibian) was reputed to 
be poisonous and invulnerable to fire. 

7.21 while Venus looks away in horror: auersa Venere, a play on words 
which resists translation; the phrase can also mean ‘in the reverse 
position’, which would naturally be that attempted by an ass. 

7.23 the next market: they were held at fixed intervals, usually of eight 
days; the delay is plausibly motivated. 

a lover’s... his manhood: the words used are ironically appropriate to 
the man hidden within the ass. Compare 7.25, ‘the butchery of my 

7.26 My Bellerophon: Lucius as Pegasus again (6.30 and note). 

7.27 antisocial behaviour: the principle to which she appeals, boni 
mores, ‘honest behaviour’, did in fact have some legal standing (A. Berger, 
Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law, Philadelphia, 1953, p. 374). 

7.28 Meleager. . . Althaea: he was fated to die when a particular piece of 
wood was burnt. His mother Althaea, enraged by his killing of her 
brothers in the quarrel after the hunting of the Calydonian Boar, thrust it 

Page 223 

into the fire and destroyed him. This is another story familiar to Roman 
readers from Ovid (Metamorphoses, 8. 445-525). 


8.1 the gift of literary style: another authorial intrusion into Lucius’ 
narrative; see 2.12, 6.29 and notes. The implication is not merely that the 
tale itself is remarkable but that Apuleius has taken especial pains in 
combining, elaborating, and embellishing his several literary models. 

Thrasyllus: ‘Rashman’; see 8.8. 

8.4 the nets: they would have been set up round the edge of the thicket to 
catch the game flushed by the hounds; Apuleius does not bother in this 
instance (contrast the water-clock at 3.3) to elaborate a detail which 
would have been familiar to most of his readers. 

8.6 like a Bacchante: the whole scene is pervaded with Virgilian echoes. 
Dido, when Fame brings the news that Aeneas is preparing to depart, 
‘raged and raved round the whole city like a Bacchant’ (Aeneid, 4. 298- 
303); and Amata, maddened by the Fury Allecto, ‘ran through the middle 
of the cities... [and] flew into the forests’ (7. 383-7) (trans. David West). 

8.7 nobody is immune: this was the commonest of the standard 
consolatory commonplaces, exploited to great effect by, for instance, 
Lucretius (De rerum natura, 3. 1024-52). Thrasyllus is ostensibly 
behaving exactly as a friend in these circumstances was supposed to. 

as the god Liber: the Latin equivalent of Bacchus/Dionysus. This 
reflects a real custom, alluded to by, for example, Statius ( Silvae , 2. 7. 
124-5, 5. 1. 231-6). Apuleius may also have had in mind the story of 
Laodamia, who cherished a portrait of her dead husband Protesilaus 
(4.26 and note); he would have read of this in Ovid (Heroides, 13. 151- 
8). Bacchus is chosen as young and ideally beautiful. 

8.8 his unspeakable treachery: his pretence of disinterested friendship; 
she learns of the murder from Tlepolemus’ ghost. 

8.10 my nurse: from Homer onwards a stock character, confidante and 

8.11 to lay him to rest: the verb used, sepeliuit, literally ‘buried’, 

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anticipates Thrasyllus’ fate. 

8.12 that shed my blood: see 4.34 and note. 

Your matrons of honour shall be the avenging Furies: an echo of the ill- 
omened marriage of Dido and Aeneas, conveyed through a conflation of 
allusions to Virgil and Ovid: Juno as pronuba, matron of honour (Aeneid, 
4. 166), and a chorus of Furies (Heroides, 7. 95-6). 

8.16 the fire-breathing Chimaera: a tripartite monster, a lion in front, a 
goat in the middle, and a dragon behind, with three heads to correspond, 
killed by Bellerophon (6.30 and note). 

8.17 not so much memorable as miserable: non tarn... memorandum quam 
miserandum; the alliteration and assonance underline Apuleius’ literary 
versatility. Encounters with fierce dogs are a recurring feature of his 
narrative (4.3, 4.19-20, 9.36-7); the changes that he rings on this theme 
recall the analogous treatment by historians of stock battle motifs (P. G. 
Walsh, Livy: his Historical Aims and Methods, Cambridge, 1967, pp. 197- 
208); and for the idea of a battle or its aftermath as a spectacle one may 
compare, for instance, the scene in which the Carthaginians view the 
battlefield of Cannae (Livy, 22. 51. 5-9) or Vitellius’ visit to Bedriacum, 
described as ‘a loathsome and dreadful spectacle’ (Tacitus, Histories, 2. 

8.18 from the top of a cypress: like Cupid reproving Psyche (5.24). It is 
difficult to see any significance in the choice of a cypress; almost any 
other tree would be easier to climb. See 6.30 and note. 

8.20 by your Fortunes and your Guardian Spirits: per Fortunas uestrosque 
Genios, an apparently unique combination in appeals of this kind. The 
idea of a Fortune peculiar to an individual recurs at 8.24, 11.15. The 
genius, a word which resists translation, is ‘the entirety of the traits 
united in a begotten being’ (OCD s.v. genius). 

8.21 a monstrous serpent: though the reader is expected to accept 
witchcraft and transformations such as Lucius’ as part of an ostensibly 
realistic depiction of contemporary life, serpents or dragons such as this 
are fabulous creatures (cf. 11.24), an intrusion from the fairytale world of 
Cupid and Psyche. 

8.22 to put it on record: the inserted stories in the earlier part of the 
book were cautionary, warnings to Lucius not to persist in his degraded 
conduct. Those after his metamorphosis point the moral by way of 
commentary on what his folly has brought him to (Introduction, §§2, 4, 
6). The suspension of disbelief required from the reader as to how 
Lucius-as-ass is supposed to have learned all the details that he recounts 
is for the most part taken for granted; the mock apology at 9.30 really 

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explains nothing. 

his consort: conseruam coniugam, ‘fellow-slave-wife’; slaves could not 
legally marry but were often allowed to form near-conjugal connections. 
In what follows Apuleius uses the terms maritus (husband) and uxor 
(wife) without qualification. 

8.23 a certain large and famous city: identified in the Onos as Beroea in 
Macedonia. Apuleius is studiously vague about Lucius’ itinerary between 
Hypata, where he is transformed, and Corinth, where he makes his last 
and successful bid for freedom. 

How long...: another allusion to the famous exordium of Cicero’s first 
oration against Catiline (3.27 and note). 

a sieve on four legs: compare 3.29; but the conceit is here elaborated 
in an obscure and untranslatable pun on the word ruderarius, which 
occurs nowhere else. It is formed from rudus, ‘rubble’, but is perhaps also 
meant to suggest rudo, ‘bray’. For once a translator may resort to 

8.24 the Syrian Goddess: Atargatis-Derceto, a type of Near Eastern 
mother- and fertility-goddess represented also by Aphrodite-Astarte and 
Rhea-Cybele. Their cults had many features in common, including that 
exploited in Apuleius’ description of eunuch priests and devotees. See 
OCD s.v. Atargatis. His unflattering account of the conduct of her priests 
follows that in the Onos quite closely but adds a number of picturesque 
details; the comment at the end of ch. 27 in particular may suggest that 
he is portraying the goddess as an anti-Isis: see the commentary of 
Hijmans et al. on book VIII, appendices III and IV. On an earlier possible 
symbolic allusion to Atargatis see 1.25 and note. His treatment of the 
episode also plays up to the traditional Roman distaste for passive male 

a genuine Cappadocian: Cappadocians were proverbially strong and 

his tax return: the information required at the census included the 
citizen’s age. 

the Cornelian law: such an act was undoubtedly illegal, but this law 
appears to be a jocular figment. Of course this is precisely what the 
auctioneer is unwittingly doing; the irony is discreetly underscored by 
the human overtones of ‘good and deserving servant’ (bonum et frugi 
mancipium) and ‘at home and abroad’ (etforis et domi). 

8.25 the extent of his patience: the ass’s equipment is large enough to 
satisfy any demands likely to be made on it by his new masters; the 

Page 226 

‘patience’ (passivity) will, however, be on their part. 

Sabadius... Bellona... the Idaean Mother... Venus with her Adonis: 
Sabadius, or Sabazius, was another fertility deity; Bellona was the Roman 
goddess of war; the Idaean Mother is Cybele; Adonis was a god of 
vegetation and fertility, in myth a beautiful young hunter beloved of 
Venus and tragically killed by a boar. See on all these OCD s.vv. The 
variety of deities invoked is typical of the syncretism of such cults; it is 
even more strikingly in evidence in Lucius’ prayer to Isis and her 
epiphany (11.2, 5). 

its unfortunate guardian: here, as in his address to the ‘girls’ in the 
next chapter, he uses the feminine gender. 

Philebus: ‘lover of youth’. Exceptionally, a character’s name is 
retained from the Onos. 

8.26 a hind substituting for a maiden: to secure a favourable wind for the 
Greek fleet bound for Troy, withheld by the offended Artemis, 
Agamemnon was forced to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia; in one 
version of the legend Artemis substituted a hind in her place. The phrase 
was apparently proverbial, but happens to be particularly appropriate 

8.27 with lowered heads: had Dickens read The Golden Ass? ‘Suddenly 
they stopped again, paused, struck out the time afresh, formed into lines 
the width of the public way, and, with their heads low down and their 
hands high up, swooped screaming off’ (A Tale of Two Cities, book III, 
ch. 5). Of this description of the Carmagnole George Orwell singled out 
‘that touch, “with their heads low down and their hands high up’” for 
‘the evil vision it conveys’ (Critical Essays, 1946, p. 16). 

8.29 Romans, to the rescue: Porro Quirites, an old formula of appeal to the 
people. In the Onos (38), ‘O Zeus!’; compare 3.29. 

8.30 a certain important city: see 8.23 and note. 


9.1 Fortune... divine Providence: here, confusingly, identified, or at any 
rate apparently for once cooperating. See 9.31 and note. 

Page 227 

9.2 Myrtilus. . . Hephaestio... Hypnophilus. . . Apollonius: humorous 
‘speaking’ names. Myrtilus was Pelops’ charioteer; Hephaestio, after 
Hephaestus, god of fire, is as obviously apt for a cook (6.24 and note) as 
Apollonius, after Apollo, god of medicine, is for a doctor; and 
Hypnophilus (‘sleep -lover’) is, as far as the sense goes, a plausible 
restoration of what the manuscripts offer (hypatafium), though it lacks 
the literary resonances of the other names. 

9.3 recorded in the ancient authorities: true, and clinically accurate. 

9.4 amusing: lepidus (see 1.1 and note). The manner of its introduction is 
calculated to draw attention to the fact that the story has little if any 
ostensible relevance to the main narrative; see 8.22 and note. 

9.5 her dashing blade of a lover: temerarius adulter, an Ovidian tag (Fasti, 
2. 335); it is used again of Philesitherus at 9.22. 

with your hands in your pockets: in the Latin ‘with your hands in your 
bosom’, i.e. in the fold of the tunic which served for a pocket. 

9.8 one all-purpose oracle: in iambic senarii, not the usual hexameters 
(4.32 and note). However, this metre too is occasionally attested (e.g. 
Herodotus, 1. 174; Cicero, De divinatione, 1. 81). 

9.10 the local Clink: in the Latin the Tullianum, the state prison at Rome, 
a noisome place with a very sinister reputation. The name of the Clink, a 
prison in London, has passed into the language as a word for prisons in 
general. So Kipling: ‘And I’m here in the Clink for a thundering drink and 
blacking the Corporal’s eye’. 

9.11 blindfolded: this was commonly done to prevent vertigo; see 9.15 
and note. 

wandering but never deviating: Apuleius relentlessly milks the 
paradox that all this walking never gets the walker anywhere. 

had often seen... in operation: and had, as ass, operated it (7.15), as 
the narrator of the Onos (42) explicitly acknowledges. Unless he is simply 
being careless, Apuleius appears to go out of his way to underline the 
asininity of Lucius’ behaviour. 

9.12 with a kind of pleasure: because of the artistic opportunity it 
afforded for the pathetic description that follows. 

the furnaces: the miller, as often, was also a baker. 

sprinkle themselves with dust: for a better grip. This alludes to the 
pancratium, a combination of boxing and all-in wrestling, rather than 
boxing proper, in which holding was not allowed. 

Page 22 8 

9.13 a consummately wise man: Odysseus (Ulysses), so characterized by 
Homer in the opening lines of the Odyssey. 

no wiser, I must admit : a rueful gloss by Lucius, recollecting his 
experiences in tranquillity, on his failure at the time to draw any 
conclusions from them bearing on his own case. 

9.14 a prettily polished production: fabulam... suaue comptam, a variation 
on lepidus (see 1.1 and note). 

the One and Only God: whether this identifies her as a Jew or a 
Christian is debatable; see the commentary of Hijmans et al. on book IX, 
appendix IV. For the latter possibility, see the episode of the trampling of 
the fish (1.25 and note). 

9.15 enabled me to follow everything that was happening: though 
blindfolded while at work (9.11 and note). Another sop to the sceptical 
reader (8.22 and note); see also 9.22. 

9.16 Philesitherus: ‘love-hunter’. 

9.17 Arete: ‘virtue’. 

Myrmex: ‘ant’. 

busy with her woolwork: spinning was the traditional occupation of 
the dutiful Roman housewife. 

to the baths: as is clear from the frequent mention of them in the 
novel, public baths were an indispensable feature of urban life under the 
Empire; as a rule only very grand houses would have had their own. 
They afforded obvious opportunities for intrigue, as Ovid notes in the 
Ars amatoria (3. 639-40). 

9.18 will force open even gates of steel: the thought is proverbial, the 
expression pointedly recalls Horace on Jupiter’s finding his way into 
Danae’s tower in the shape of a shower of gold: ‘gold can pass through 
the midst of attendants and break through stone with greater power than 
a thunderbolt’ (Odes, 3. 16. 9-11). 

9.19 his purpose driven this way and that: like a distraught heroine (5.21 
and note). 

like all women: the Latin is ambiguous: genuina can mean, and is so 
taken by some translators, ‘natural to her’, sc. individually. However, the 
notion that frailty is endemic in the female sex was old and persistent 
(compare the jaundiced view taken by Lucius at 7.10); the old woman 
who is telling the story naturally takes the cynical view. There is a 
similar ambiguity at 9.23. 

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9.20 Love the Raw Recruit: Amori Rudi; though each is individually 
experienced in love, they are recruits in a new service so far as this 
relationship is concerned. For the military metaphor, compare 2.10, 

9.21 in the baths: the theft of clothes from bathers was a common crime, 
so Philesitherus’ inspiration is not implausible. 

9.22 the dashing adulterer: the phrase is repeated from 9.5 (see note), but 
with ironic effect. Apuleius seems to go out of his way to draw attention 
to the fact that in combining two originally distinct stories into one, with 
the same protagonist, he expects the reader to accept without demur 
Philesitherus’ metamorphosis from a man of the world, equal to coping 
with the formidable Barbarus, to a pretty boy who needs (as the old 
woman’s speech indicates) a good deal of encouragement to come to the 
scratch and is then thrown into total panic by the arrival of the wronged 
husband. See below, 9.27 and note. 

9.23 the cunning of her sex: ingenita... astutia, the same ambiguity as at 
9.19 (see note). 

by holy Ceres over there: a mill-cum-bakery would naturally house a 
shrine of Ceres, as a stable would one of Epona (3.27). 

9.25 bless you: he would have said salue, ‘be well’; sneezing could be 
lucky or unlucky as it came from the right or left respectively. 

9.27 I’m no barbarian: non sum barbarus, also meaning ‘I’m not 
Barbarus’; nor is this Philesitherus (above, 9.22 and note). 

I shan’t sue: more legal pleasantries (6.29 and note). 

9.30 let me tell you: a tease; he never does so. See 8.22 and note. 

9.31 her stepmother’s crimes: only now do we learn that she is typecast in 
this archetypally malevolent role. 

Fortune: here again (9.1 and note) implicitly identified with divine 
Providence, who set this chain of events in motion by providing Lucius 
with the opportunity to avenge his master (9.27). 

9.32 the subject demands: see 4.6 and note. 

9.37 leaving his body balanced in mid-air: a specifically epic touch (Ovid, 
Metamorphoses, 5. 126-7, 12. 330-31; Lucan, Pharsalia, 3. 601-2, 7. 624); 
compare the fete of Alcimus (4.12 and note). This and other details of the 
fighting invest a sordid brawl with literary dignity. 

9.38 you will always have a neighbour: a proverbial idea, but hardly 
calculated to crush this aggressor. 

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9.39 the vine-staff : the centurion’s emblem of rank. 

couldn’t understand what he was saying: how could Lucius? In taking 
over this episode from the Onos (44) Apuleius seems to have overlooked 
the fact that it was only later that he learned Latin (1.1 and note). 

calling him ‘mate’: commilito, ‘fellow soldier’. 

9.41 as I learned later: we are not told how; compare 4.6 and note. 

a sacrilegious breach: because the oath was sworn by the Emperor or, 
as here (see below), by his genius. 

9.42 the common proverb: in fact an Apuleian conflation of two proverbs. 
‘The peeping ass’ put his head into a potter’s shop and broke the pots; 
the potter sued his owner. ‘The ass’s shadow’ is a story supposedly 
invented by Demosthenes to shame an inattentive jury: a man hired an ass 
and took a nap in its shadow, and the owner sued him because he had 
only rented out the beast and not its shadow. Both stories in different 
ways satirize frivolous behaviour. 

BOOK 10 

10.2 the sock... the buskin: the low shoe (soccus) and high boot 
(cothurnus) worn by comic and tragic actors respectively. This is an 
Apuleian tease: the story of the stepmother who falls in love with her 
stepson was familiar in particular from Euripides’ play Hippolytus, but 
here it turns out to have a happy ending. The literary texture is enriched 
by echoes of Virgil, Ovid and Seneca. 

Alas, th’ unknowing minds of - doctors: an adapted quotation from 
Virgil’s comment on Dido’s attempts to invoke the blessing of the gods on 
her ill-starred love for Aeneas (Aeneid, 4. 65); in the original, ‘of seers’. 
Compare these symptoms with those at 5.25. 

10.3 It is his likeness: lifted from Seneca’s play Phaedra (646-7). 

hasn’t happened: this has a proverbial ring: ‘What’s hid’s unknown, 
and what’s unknown’s unsought’ (Ovid, Ars amatoria, 3. 397, trans. A. D. 
Melville). Compare Psyche’s sister: ‘You aren’t really rich if nobody 
knows that you are’ (5.10). 

10.5 buried before his eyes: to be predeceased by one’s children, more 

Page 231 

especially by a son, was looked on as a terrible misfortune; the theme had 
been eloquently exploited by Juvenal in his tenth Satire (25off.). 

10.6 a parricide: see 3.7 and note. So at 5.11 the sisters’ plot against 
Psyche is described in the Latin as parricide. 

10.7 the council: in this case the court apparently consists of the town 
councillors (patres) acting as a jury, with the magistrates presiding. See 
Introduction, §6. 

the court of the Areopagus: this very ancient court was still in being in 
Apuleius’ time; that these prohibitions were still in force in provincial 
courts may be antiquarian fantasy. 

I don’t know and am in no position to report to you: after his report of 
the stepmother’s ipsissima verba, a belated concession to plausibility. 
Apuleius may have felt, reasonably enough, that another pair of full-dress 
forensic speeches after those at 3.3-6 would, even by his standards, be 
overdoing things. He has, however, no compunction in reporting the 
doctor’s speech verbatim. 

with a show of nervousness: this, in terms of transcriptional 
probability, is a more convincing correction of the manuscript text than 
the reading preferred by some editors, ‘without the slightest trace of 
nervousness’. The fact that two readings diametrically opposed in sense 
are from the literary point of view almost equally plausible is a salutary 
reminder of the difficulties that sometimes confront critics of Greek and 
Latin texts. 

10.8 to be sewn up in the sack: another antiquarian flourish. The ancient 
punishment for parricides was to be enclosed in a sack with various 
animals and drowned. It had been abolished in the mid first century BC. 

10.10 as usual in Greece: see 3.9 and note. 

10.11 improper for one of my profession: as contrary to the Hippocratic 
Oath: ‘I will not administer poison to anyone if asked, nor suggest doing 

mandragora: a decoction of the mandrake. Seneca records a similar 
incident when a slave, ordered to give his master poison to save him 
from death at the hands of Caesar, substituted a narcotic; there as here 
the story ended happily (De benefeciis, 3. 24). The theme was also 
exploited by the Greek novelists Xenophon of Ephesus and Iamblichus, 
and long afterwards by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. 

the extreme penalty of the law. in this case crucifixion (10.12), but a 
slave convicted of conspiring against his master was liable to be burned 
alive or thrown to the beasts. 

Page 232 

10.1 2 famous, indeed fabulous: famosa atque fabulosa; in introducing the 
story Apuleius had announced it as ‘a tragedy, no mere tale’, tragoediam 
nonfabulam (10.2). A ‘tale’ is of course precisely what he has made of it. 

10.13 a pastrycook... a chef: a slave might be allowed to own and manage 
property or conduct a business on his own behalf. Technically the profits 
or savings - the ‘nest-egg’ ( peculium ) referred to at 10.14 - belonged to 
the master; in practice they were often used by the slave to purchase his 
freedom, as is evidently the case with the freedman mentioned at 10.17, 
referred to as satis peculiato, having set himself up well. See OCD s.v. 
peculium; J. A. Crook, Law and Life of Rome, 1967, pp. 188-9. 

10.14 doing an Eteocles: Oedipus’ sons Eteocles and Polynices died at 
each other’s hands while fighting for the kingship after his death. Their 
conflict was the theme of Aeschylus’ play The Seven against Thebes and 
the background to Sophocles’ Antigone. 

10.15 the Harpies: see 2.23 and note. They persecuted the blind Phineus 
by fouling and plundering his food. Apuleius’ readers would have been 
familiar with Virgil’s description ( Aeneid , 3. 209-69). 

10.16 silphium: a kind of asafoetida, used for both medicinal and culinary 
purposes. It was a purgative and perhaps an acquired taste. 

10.17 upwards for ‘no’ and downwards for ‘yes’: still the regular gestures 
of dissent and assent in Greece. 

10.18 Thiasus: ‘revel’. 

the capital of the province of Achaea: and also Lucius’ native place 
(2.12), something one might have expected him to allude to. In the Onos, 
the scene of this last episode is Thessalonica (49). Another loose end; see 
also 11.18, 11.26 and notes. 

the quinquennial magistracy: as municipal censor; see OCD s.v. 

10.19 Pasiphae: wife of Minos, king of Crete; she fell in love with a bull 
and mated with him concealed in a wooden cow made by Daedalus. Their 
offspring was the Minotaur, half bull, half man. The story had been told 
with mock-revulsion by Ovid in the Ars amatoria (1. 289-326). 

10.21 even the band: often shown in pictures of lovemaking as kept on. 

10.23 put to death at birth: by exposure. In law the Roman father of a 
family ( paterfamilias ) had the absolute power of life and death over its 
members. By Apuleius’ time it was rarely exercised except on unwanted 
new-born infants, a practice which continued in spite of attempts to 
outlaw it. 

Page 233 

10.25 many victorious battles and many notable trophies: doctors who 
killed their patients were a favourite target of satirists; there is a similar 
conceit to this in an epigram ascribed to Lucian ( Greek Anthology, 11. 
401), in which a doctor boasts that he has sent many souls down to Hades 
in an adaptation of a famous line of Homer referring to the exploits of 
Achilles {Iliad, 1. 3). This one evidently does it on purpose. 

Lifegiver... Lifetaker: literally (but the text is uncertain) ‘sacred to 
Health... sacred to Proserpine’. 

10.28 from a child prematurely deceased: text and interpretation 

10.29 holy matrimony: matrimonium confarreatum; see 5.26 and note. 

the very pretty sight inside: once more Apuleius indulges his love of 
elaborate description. However, this is not pure embellishment. The 
mythical Venus portrayed in the pageant, who offered Paris pleasure as 
the price of his Judgement, with proverbially ruinous consequences 
(10.33), can be seen in retrospect as an ironic contrast to the true Venus, 
subsumed in the all-embracing godhead of Isis (11.2, 5), in whose service 
Lucius will find the high and pure pleasure which, like Psyche, he has 
hitherto failed to recognize. That the reference to the fatal verdict of 
Paris is blunted of its point by being made to form part of a general 
diatribe on corrupt juries can also be seen as ironic: once again Lucius 
fails to grasp the real significance of what he sees and of his own 
reactions to it. His revulsion from what awaits him in the arena is 
grounded, not on moral principle, but on a distaste for criminal 
associations and fear for his own skin. These are the motives for his 
escape; he finds salvation not because he has come to deserve it but 
because he desperately needs it. 

a pyrrhic dance in Greek style: a war-dance, properly performed by 
men and boys in armour. If Apuleius knew the etymology which derived 
the name from pyra, ‘funeral pyre’, i.e. that of Patroclus, round which it 
was first supposed to have been danced, its performance before a re- 
enactment of the events which led to the Trojan War is doubly 

10.30 the wand he carried: his herald’s staff ( caduceus ). 

with a nod: a pointed piece of mime, representing the nod with 
which in epic Jupiter irrevocably confirms his decisions. 

10.31 her descent from heaven... her connection with the sea: see 4.28 and 
note, egg-shaped helmets with a star for crest: their mother Leda bore 
them to Jupiter, who had mated with her in the shape of a swan, in an 
egg; as the constellation Gemini (the Twins) they protected sailors. 

Page 234 

the Ionian pipe: a quiet ladylike mode for the most ladylike of the 
three goddesses. 

Terror and Fear: the Homeric Deimos and Phobos, Athene’s 
(Minerva’s) attendants in battle (Homer, Iliad, 4. 440). 

a Dorian piper: the martial mode; Milton, Paradise Lost, 1. 549-51: 

Anon they move 

In perfect Phalanx to the Dorian mood 
Of Flutes and soft Recorders; such as rais’d 
To highth of noblest temper Hero’s old 
Arming to Battel. . . 

10.32 sweet Lydian harmonies: the softest of the modes. 

10.33 you gowned vultures: lawyers as a class have never been popular, 
and complaints about justice being sold to the highest bidder are as old as 
Hesiod ( Works and Days, 37-41). ‘It was a widespread conviction in 
antiquity that all arts and artefacts must have been invented by 
somebody’ (R. G. M. Nisbet and Margaret Hubbard, A Commentary on 
Horace: Odes Book I, Oxford, 1970, p. 49); so the invention of the lamp is 
ascribed to a lover (5.23). Lucius credits Paris, on top of starting the 
Trojan War, with the additional distinction of being the first corrupt 
judge. He himself later on is not ashamed to boast of doing well for 
himself as an advocate (11.30). 

Palamedes... Ajax: both victims of Ulysses’ unprincipled cunning. 
Palamedes unmasked Ulysses’ deception when he feigned madness to 
escape service in the expedition against Troy, and was subsequently 
framed by Ulysses and executed on a trumped-up charge of treachery. 
Ajax was defeated by Ulysses’ sophistical rhetoric in the contest for the 
arms of the dead Achilles, and in his humiliation committed suicide. 
Both stories would have been familiar from Ovid’s treatment in the 
Metamorphoses (13.1-398); and both are mentioned in the speech 
ascribed to Socrates by Plato in the other case cited by Lucius as ‘men of 
old who lost their lives through an unjust judgement’ ( Apology , 41b). See 
next note. 

An old man of godlike understanding: Socrates, condemned to drink 
hemlock on a charge of corrupting the youth of Athens. 

10.34 a shower of wine mixed with saffron: spraying perfume over the 
stage was a standard refinement. Mixing saffron with wine is expressly 
recommended by Pliny ( Natural History, 21. 33). 

10.35 the famous colony of Corinth: it had been destroyed by Mummius 
in 146 BC and refounded as a Roman colonia in 44 BC. 

Page 235 

BOOK 11 

11.1 by her Providence : the divine Providence so often referred to is now 
identified with the goddess herself. 

her light and might: luminis numinisque. 

godlike Pythagoras: a reminder of the philosophical background that 
ought to have stood Lucius in better stead (1.2 and note). The mystic 
properties of the number seven were widely venerated in Greek and 
Oriental cults; Venus in her anti-Isiac guise offers seven kisses as the 
reward for informing against Psyche (6.8 and note). 

my silent prayer: Lucius throws himself on the divine mercy. The 
ensuing chain of events calls forth the most sustained display of 
Apuleius’ rhetorical and descriptive powers in the novel. His invocation, 
like those of Psyche (6.2, 6.4 and notes), follows the traditional forms and 
conventions of ancient prayer and is constructed with great elaboration 
(see the analysis by Gwyn Griffiths, Isis-Book, pp. 119-22). It and the 
following description of Isis’ epiphany also reflect ancient catalogues 
(aretalogies) of the goddess’s powers and attributes (Walsh, 1970, pp. 

11.2 Phoebus’ sister: Diana (Artemis), though in classical (Homeric) myth 
a virgin goddess, was worshipped at Ephesus as a fertility goddess and as 
Lucina (Ilithyia) presided over childbirth. She was also identified with 
the moon, as Phoebus was with the sun. 

of the fearful night-howling and triple countenance: not here the 
courteous hostess of Psyche, but the Underworld goddess identified with 
Hecate, whose coming is heralded by the howling of the dogs 
(Theocritus, Idylls, 2. 35-6; Virgil, Aeneid, 6. 257-8). She too is identified 
with the moon in the all-embracing figure of Isis. 

if I may not live: van der Vhet (1897) added hominem, ‘as a man’, 
which is more logical and pointed: the escaped Lucius-as-ass is not now 
confronted with imminent death. 

11.3 First her hair: as in the description of the sleeping Cupid (5.22) he 
follows the rules of classical rhetoric by starting at the top. The emphasis 
on hair, though brief, is pointed (see 2.8 and note). 

11.4 a bronze sistrum: a rattle made of rods loosely fixed in a metal frame 
(two examples are depicted on the cover). See 11.10. 

the blessed perfumes of Arabia: blessed as coming from Arabia Felix, 
Arabia the Blessed; as usual, Apuleius scouts the obvious turn of phrase. 

11.5 first-born of mankind: as claimed by Herodotus (2. 2. 1). Pessinus 

Page 236 

was an important provincial centre in Asia Minor. 

the native Athenians: they boasted that they had always lived in 

Dictynnan Diana: the Cretan goddess Dictynna was identified with 

the triple-tongued Sicilians: they are not elsewhere so described, and it 
is not clear what third language after Greek and Latin Apuleius may have 
in mind. Elsewhere trilinguis means literally ‘three-tongued’, e.g. of the 
three-headed Cerberus, and the allusion may be to the triangular shape of 
Sicily, often so characterized; lingua can mean ‘promontory’. Compare 
‘the island- dwelling Cypriots’ preceding. 

Rhamnusia: i.e. as Nemesis, worshipped at Rhamnus in Attica. 

both races of Ethiopians: see 1.8 and note. 

11.6 that has always been so hateful to me: see Introduction, §8. 

make spiteful accusations against you: similar considerations had 
deterred Lucius from seizing an earlier opportunity of release (3.29). 

solemnly promised: she uses the technical term meaning ‘legally bound 
over to appear’; see 4.18 and note. 

that subterranean hemisphere: in the pseudo-Platonic dialogue 
Axiochus, and apparently nowhere else, the gods and ‘those below’ are 
described as inhabiting the upper and lower halves of a spherical 
universe (371b). 

beyond the bounds fixed for you by your Fate: a striking claim: the 
gods of the pagan literary tradition were powerless to override the 
decrees of Fate. Perhaps, as suggested by Gwyn Griffiths, ‘fate’ is used 
here to mean ‘what the astrologers predict’. 

11.7 wore an air of serene enjoyment: Lucius’ lyrical description recalls 
the Lucretian Venus, at whose coming ‘the creative earth puts forth 
sweet flowers, the broad ocean smiles, and heaven is appeased and glows 
with diffused light’ ( De rerum natura, 1. 7-9). See Introduction, §7. 

11.8 Pegasus and Bellerophon: see 6.30 and note. It is tempting to see 
some symbolic significance in these masqueraders, especially since it is 
an ass that brings up the rear, but no really convincing interpretation on 
these lines has been offered; see 6.18 and note. As Lucius carefully 
distinguishes between this popular buffoonery and the goddess’s 
procession proper, the description may be intended to throw the true 
significance of the following spectacle into relief by contrasting it with 
the uncritical and uncomprehending enjoyment of the uninitiated. 

Page 237 

11.9 Sarapis: the Greek spelling; he is more familiar as Serapis. Here 
identified with Osiris. 

which extended to their right ears: a periphrasis for the transverse 
pipe ( plagiaulos , tibia obliqua ). The aulos or tibia was a reed instrument, 
and the ‘flute’ of some translators and commentators gives a misleading 
idea of its tone, which was more calculated to excite than soothe. 

11.10 the earthly stars of the great faith: these words were transposed to 
this position in the text by van der Vliet (1897); in the manuscripts they 
characterize the body of the initiates. 

a copy of Mercury’s caduceus: see note on Anubis at 11.11 below. 

more apt to symbolize justice than the right: this interesting idea seems 
to be otherwise unattested and may be a flight of fancy on Apuleius’ part. 
It is hazardous to trust him implicitly on such points; see next note. 

a golden basket heaped with laurel branches: text and interpretation 
are disputed, but most modern versions (Butler’s is an honourable 
exception) do violence to the Latin or the sense or both. Laurel is not 
elsewhere mentioned as playing a part in Isiac ritual, but see previous 
note. The vannus doubled in cult as a winnowing-fan and a receptacle for 
sacred objects. 

11.11 his face now black, now gold: perhaps as symbolizing the 
Underworld and heaven respectively; but whether one statue with 
particoloured face is meant or two different statues is not clear from the 
description. Anubis, like Mercury, is a shepherd of souls and shares his 

the All-Mother: Isis herself, figured as a cow or with a cow’s head. 

11.15 a Fortune that can see: it is one of the unresolved paradoxes of the 
revelation finally granted to Lucius-Apuleius that it should be blind 
Fortune (7.2 and note) that places him in the end under the protection of 
a seeing Fortune in the shape of Isis. It was probably the paradox itself 
and the opportunity it offered for rhetorical exploitation that primarily 
interested Apuleius rather than its theological implications. The priest’s 
characterization of Lucius’ persecuting Fortune owes at least as much to 
literary as to religious conceptions. 

you will really experience the enjoyment of your liberty: an idea 
familiar to Anglicans in the words of the Collect for Peace: ‘whose service 
is perfect freedom’; not found in this pointed paradoxical form in the 
New Testament. It goes back through the early Fathers at least to Seneca: 
De vita beata (‘How to be happy’) 15. 7, ‘Liberty is obedience to God’. 

11.16 the reward of a blameless and pious life: the remark is prefaced 

Page 238 

with a word which Apuleius often uses as a nudge to the reader, scilicet, 
‘obviously’ but also ironically ‘no doubt’. Taken at its face value it is flatly 
at variance both with what the reader knows and what the priest has just 
said; Apuleius is slyly indicating that the idea that salvation is earned by 
works rather than faith is a popular misconception. See Introduction, 
§ 10 . 

an egg, and sulphur: though sulphur and eggs figure separately in 
other allusions to purificatory rituals, they are otherwise mentioned in 
combination only by Ovid in the Ars amatoria (2. 330). Apuleius knew 
his Ovid, and this may be another detail that owes more to literary 
reminiscence than to accurate observation. See next note. 

11.17 the Pastophori: ‘shrine-bearers’. Here and subsequently Apuleius 
writes of them as if they had priestly status, which does not appear to 
have been the case. See 11.30 and note. 

in Greek: ta Ploiaphesia, ‘the Ship-launching’. These are the only 
words actually written in Greek (slightly garbled but plausibly restored) 
in the novel; see 4.32 and note. 

11.18 in my homeland: Rumour did not in fact have far to go, or his 
visitors to come, for he was now only a matter of a few miles (10.35) 
from Corinth, where he was born. The implication that he was a long 
way from home is a hangover from the Greek original, in which the 
narrator’s native city is several days’ sail from the place of his restoration 
to human shape ( Onos , 55). 

11.20 some ‘portions’: partes, suggesting ‘shares’ in an enterprise of some 
kind, but the modern connotations of the word render its use misleading 

after Photis’ disastrous mistake had embridled me: cum me Photis malis 
incapistrasset erroribus, i.e. turned me into an ass, but the words can also 
mean ‘had trapped me in my unhappy wanderings’, a good example of 
Apuleius’ linguistic versatility, incapistro is found nowhere else and was 
evidently coined by him, as was a good deal of his vocabulary. 

11.21 return them to a new lifespan: in this world or the next? The 
ambiguity reflects that of Isis’ promise at 11.6. But initiation is clearly, as 
the case of Lucius himself shows, not reserved exclusively for those at 
death’s door. 

11.22 her own high priest Mithras: Mithras seems to have been a not 
uncommon personal name, but it is striking to find a high priest of Isis so 
called. All the mystery religions shared certain features, and it is on 
record that people were initiated or held priesthoods in more than one. If 
Apuleius is hinting at an affinity between the cults of Isis and Mithras he 

Page 23 9 

does not develop the point. On Mithraism see OCD s.v. Mithras. 

a divinely ordained conjunction of our stars: again a literary echo, here 
of Horace addressing Maecenas: ‘our horoscopes agree in a marvellous 
manner’ (Odes, 2.17. 21-2). 

unknown characters: in the hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts. 

11.23 my pledged appearance: again the legal phrase connoting being 
bound over to appear in court (11.6 and note), almost ‘to answer to my 
divine bail’. 

the other for importunate curiosity: this phrase is a supplement added 
by van der Vliet (1897); curiosity is not a vice of the tongue. 

that and no more I shall relate: what exactly initiates in the mystery 
cults experienced has been the subject of much speculation. So much is 
clear, that an ordeal by darkness and terror culminated in a brilliandy lit 
revelation of divine beneficence. The pattern has survived in the rituals 
enacted in The Magic Flute. 

11.24 Hyperborean griffins: fabulous monsters that lived in the far north 
guarding stores of gold (Herodotus, 4. 13. 1). 

an Olympic robe: the epithet has not been convincingly explained. 
Olympiacam means ‘Olympic’, not as in the translations ‘Olympian’. 
Perhaps a symbol of victory? 

a boon I could never repay: see 3.22 and note. 

11.26 my ancestral home: Corinth, just the other side of the Isthmus, an 
hour or so away on horseback. Lucius makes it sound as if he had a long 
way to go: see 10.18, 11.18 and notes. 

Isis of the Field: Isis Campensis; her temple was in the Campus 
Martius, the Field of Mars. Like other Isiac temples, it was notorious as a 
lovers’ rendezvous (Ovid, Amores, 2. 2. 25, Ars amatoria, 1. 77, 3. 393; 
Juvenal, Satires, 6.489, 9. 22; Martial, 11. 47. 4). 

11.27 the invincible Osiris: consort of Isis; he had appeared in the 
procession in the guise of Sarapis (11.9 and note). He is called invincible 
or unconquered ( inuictus ) because of his restoration to life by Isis (herself 
also so styled, 11.7) and his victory over his evil brother and murderer, 

a wand tipped with ivy: the thyrsus, associated particularly with the 
worship of Bacchus (Dionysus). 

very apt: the cognomen Asinius is derived from asinus, ‘ass’. 

a man from Madaura: attentive readers have been prepared for the 

Page 240 

revelation that ‘Lucius’ is a mask for the author himself (2.12 and note), 
but the way in which it is finally effected is wonderfully offhand. See 
Introduction, §8. 

11.28 between the devil and the deep sea: in the Latin inter sacrum. . . et 
saxum, ‘between the altar and the flint-knife’, sc. of the sacrificing priest. 
Apparently proverbial, but Apuleius almost certainly picked the 
expression up from Plutus, who uses very nearly the same words in his 
play Captivi (617). 

in Latin: this is Apuleius speaking (1.1. and note). 

11.30 the Pastophori: see 11.17 and note. 

the order of quinquennial decurions: the term and the office belong to 
the world of provincial administration (10.18); the decuriones were 
municipal senators or town councillors. There seems to be no other firm 
evidence for the existence of such an office in the Isiac priesthood. See 
11.10, 16 and notes. 

entered joyfully on: gaudens obibam, the last words of the Latin text. 
The book ends as it began, with an emphasis on pleasure, but ambiguity 
persists to the last. The verb, in the imperfect tense, may be inceptive, as 
it is rendered here, ‘began to perform’, or continuative, ‘went on 
performing’. The reader is left wondering how long ago all this was and 
what may have happened between then and the ‘now’ implied in the 

founded in the time of Sulla: Sulla lived from 138 to 78 BC; it is 
perfectly possible that an Isiac priesthood was established at Rome 
during this period, but there is no reason to connect it with Sulla himself. 
The prosaic chronological formula signals the final emergence of the hero 
and his story from the colourful nightmare of metaphorical 
metamorphosis into the light of common day and leaves the reader once 
more confronting contemporary reality. See Introduction, §3. 

Page 241 


Abroea, xvii, 215 

Acarnania, 243 

Achaea, 183, 253 

Acheron, 198 

Achilles, 229, 253, 254 

Achilles Tatius, xxx, 230, 234, 235 

Actaean, see Attica 

Actaeon, 24, 224 

Actium, 114, 243 

Adherbal, 221 

Adlington, William, xxxiii-xxxiv, xxxv 
Adonis, 142, 247 
Aegean (sea), 194 
Aegjum, 9, 220 

Aeneas, xxxi, xxxv, 224, 233, 240, 241, 245, 251 

Aeschylus, 252 

Aesculapius, 9, 220 

Aether, 97, 239 

Aetolia, 9, 17 

Africa, xxviii, 219 

Agamemnon, 247 

Ajax, 49, 193, 229, 254-5 

Alcimus, 62-3, 231, 235, 250 

Allecto, 245 

Althaea, 127, 237, 244 

Amata, 245 

Amphion, 242 

Andromeda, 234, 235 

Page 242 

Anti ope, 242 
Antipodes, 11, 221 

Antony, Mark (Marcus Antonius), 243 
Anubis, 201, 257 
Apelles, 226 
Aphrodite, see Venus 

Apollo, xv, xxiii, 35, 74, 105, 196, 220, 234, 236, 252 

Apollonius (author of Argonautica), 238 
Apollonius (character in GA), 148, 248 

Apuleius, xiii, xvii, xxii-xxv, xxviii-xxx, xxxi, xxxii, xxxiii, 28, 225, 
228, 242, 245, 259-60 

Arabia, 27, 197, 256 

Arcadia, 97, 239 

Areopagus, 176, 251 

Ares, see Mars 

Arete, 156-8, 249-50 

Argonauts, 226 

Argos, 95, 239 

Argus, 34, 226 

Arignotus, 29, 225 

Arion, 108, 242-3 

Aristides (of Miletus), ix-x 

Aristomenes, 9-18, 22, 216, 220-21 

Aristophanes, 223, 225, 240 

Artemidorus, xx, 232 

Artemis, see Diana 

Asclepius, see Aesculapius 

Asia, 191 

Asia Minor, 256 

Asinius Marcellus, xxiii, 212, 259 

Page 243 

Astarte, see Atargatis 

Atargatis, xxxii, 142-52 passim, 223, 247-8 
Athene, see Minerva 

Athens, x, 7, 8, 20, 193, 197, 219, 231, 238, 255, 256 
Attica, 7, 95, 197, 256 
Attis, 71, 232 

Augustine (of Hippo), xx, xxiii, xxxiv, xxxvii 

Augustus, 229, 243 

Aurelius, Marcus, 220 

Avernus, 225, 241 

Babylonia, 225 

Bacchante, 14, 131, 221, 226, 245 

Bacchus (Dionysus, Liber), 28, 50, 105, 132, 226, 240, 242, 245, 259 
Bactria, 119 

Barbaras, 156-9, 216, 250 

Bedriacum, 246 

Bellerophon, 125, 200, 241, 243, 244, 245, 257 
Bellona, 142, 197, 247 
Beroea, 215, 246 

Boccaccio, Giovanni, xxxiv-xxxv 
Boeotia, 9, 48-9, 60 
Brenan, Gerald, xx-xxi, 230 
Bridges, Robert Seymour, xxxv 
Byblis, 237 

Byrrhena, xvii, 23-5, 28, 31-3, 38, 46, 215, 216, 219, 223, 224, 227, 231, 

Caesar, 54, 171, 252 
Callimachus, 222 
Calydonian Boar, 244 
Calypso, 13, 221 

Page 244 

Campus Martius, 211, 259 

Candidus (Lucius’ horse), 8, 206-7 

Cannae (battle of), 246 

Cappadocia, 142, 247 

Capricorn, 165 

Care (Sollicitudo), 98 

Carrhae (battle of), x 

Carthage, 95, 239, 246 

Castor, 191, 254; see also Pollux 

Catiline (Lucius Sergius Catilina), 230, 246 

Cecrops, 197 

Cenchreae, xxix, 194, 213 
Centaurs, 60, 231 

Cerberus, 15, 49, 67, 103, 221, 241, 256 
Cerdo, 29, 225 

Ceres (Demeter), xiii, 93, 94-5, 160, 195, 197, 234, 238-9, 250 
Cervantes, Miguel de, xxxv 
Chaldea, 28-9, 40, 225 

Charite, xvii, xxv, 69-71, 106-10, 113, 116-19, 128-36, 215, 216, 235, 
241, 242, 244 

Chariton, xxx 

Charon, 102, 103 

Chimaera, 137, 243, 245 

Chloe, 237 

Christ, xx 

Christ Church, Oxford, xiv, lii 
Christianity, 154-5, 223, 249 
Chryseros, 61, 231 
Cicero, xxxiii, 222, 230, 246 
Circe, 240 

Page 245 

Circus Maximus, 97, 240 
Cleaver, Eldridge, xx, xxi 
Cleopatra, 243 
Clink (prison), 152, 240 
Clodius Albinus, x 
Clytius, 20, 222 
Cnidos, 72, 226, 233 
Cocytus, 100, 240 
Common Prayer, Book of, 258 
Coptos, 36, 227 

Corinth, x, xi, xii, 7, 19, 28, 112, 183-6, 194, 211, 215, 219, 220, 221, 

232, 246, 253, 254, 258, 259 

Creon, 11, 221 
Crete, 197, 253, 256 

Creusa, 224 
Cronus (Kronos), 233 

Cupid (Eros, Love), xxv, xxxvii, 26, 30, 51, 129, 157, 173, 192, 195, 225, 

233, 241, 250, 256; see also Cupid and Psyche, the story of 

Cupid and Psyche, the story of, xii, xiii, xvi, xvii, xxv-xxvi, xxviii, xxxv, 
71-106, 216, 229, 233-42 passim, 246 

Cybele, 143, 152, 197, 232, 247 

Cyllene (Mount), 239 
Cyprus, 197, 256 
Cythera, 28, 72, 233 
Daedalus, 253 
Danae, 249 
Daphne, 150 
Daphnis, 237 

Dawn (Aurora), 40, 99, 227 
Delphi, 193, 236 
Demeas, 18-19, 21, 222 

Page 246 

Demeter, see Ceres 
Demochares, 63-5, 231, 232 
Demosthenes, 251 
Derceto, see Atargatis 

Diana (Artemis), xiii, 23-4, 196, 197, 221, 224, 239, 247, 255, 256; see 
also Hecate, Moon 

Dickens, Charles, xxii, 223, 247-8 

Dictynna, L97, 256 

Dido, 245, 251 

Dinard, xx-xxi 

Diomedes (king of Thrace), 120, 244 
Dione, 239 

Dionysus, see Bacchus 
Diophanes, 29-30, 40, 216, 225 
Dirce, 107, 242 

Dis, 102, 103, 241; see also Orcus 
Dorian (mode), 192, 254 
Earth, 36, 99 
Echo, 89 

Egypt, x, xiii, xx, xxx, 7, 36, 197, 201, 204, 219, 221 

Eleusis, 95, 195, 197, 238 

Elysium, 198 

Encolpius, xxxi 

Endymion, 13, 221 

Envy (Invidia), 64, 75, 114, 232 

Ephesus, 196, 252, 255 

Epicurus, xxvii, 242 

Epona, 53, 230, 250 

Erichtho, 227 

Eros, see Cupid 

Page 247 

Eteocles, 181, 252 
Ethiopia, 11, 197, 221, 256 
Eubcea, 29 
Eubulus, 64, 232 

Euripides, 221, 226, 234, 235, 242, 251 
Europa, 108, 243 
Fame, 131, 205, 245, 258 

Fate, 18, 28, 36, 57, 88, 173, 195, 198, 210, 225, 237, 256; see also 
Fortune, Providence 

Fear (Phobos), 192, 254 

Fetiales, 226 

Fielding, Henry, xxxvi, xxxviii 
Flaubert, Gustave, xxxvi i 
Florence, xlii 

Fortune, xi, xxvii, xxxi, 9, 10, 11, 15, 29, 47, 57, 62, 65, 73, 79, 80, 81, 
82, 96, 108, 112, 113, 120, 122, 124, 128, 139, 141, 147, 148, 164, 
174, 182, 187, 202, 203-4, 210, 224, 226, 232, 236, 237, 243, 246, 
248, 250, 257; see also Fate, Providence 

Furies, 17, 37, 83, 87, 135, 167, 237, 245 

Gaisford, Thomas, xiv 
Gaius (brother of narrator of Onos ), xxxvi 
Ganymede, 13, 101, 105, 200, 221, 240 
Gaul, 183-4 

Gemini (constellation), 254; see also Castor, Pollux 
Geryon, 39, 49, 227 
Giants, 233 

Gildon, Charles, xxxii-xxxiii 

Golden Ass, The (Asinus Aureus), title of Apuleius’ novel, xxiii 
Good Faith (Fides), 68, 187, 232 
Graces, 26, 57, 91, 105, 192 
Grant, Michael, xxxiii-xxxiv 

Page 24 8 

‘Grecian story’ (fabula Graecanica), see Metamorphoses 
Grub Street, xxxii 

Guardian Spirit (Genius), 139, 171, 246, 251 

Gulf of Corinth, 220 

Habit (Consuetudo), 97, 240 

Hades, see Orcus 

Hadrian, 243, 244 

Haemus, 114-18, 243, 244; see also Tlepolemus 

Harpies, 34, 181, 226, 253 

Heaven (Uranus), 97, 233, 239 

Hecale, 19, 222 

Hecate, 196, 197, 224, 256 

Helen of Troy, 192, 233 

Heliodorus, xxx, 221, 227, 234 

Hellespont, 242 

Henna, 238 

Hephaestio, 148, 248 

Hephaestus, see Vulcan 

Hera, see Juno 

Hercules (Heracles), 49, 227, 240, 244 
Hermes, see Mercury 
Herodotus, 256 
Hesiod, 232, 233, 254 
Hipparchus, 215 
Hippocratic Oath, 252 
Hippodamia, 231 

Homer, xxx, xxxi, 13, 29, 154, 190, 221, 224, 231, 232, 233, 235, 240, 
242, 245, 249, 253, 254 

Horace, xxii, 222, 249, 259 

Hours, 91, 192 

Page 249 

Hymettus, 7, 219 

Hypata, xi, xviii, 9, 18, 60, 200, 215, 225, 228, 246 

Hyperborean, 210, 259 

Hypnophilus, 148, 248 

Iamblichus (novelist), 252 

Ida (Mount), 142, 190, 247 

Ilithyia, see Lucina 

111 Success (Scaevus Eventus), 66, 230, 232 
Inachus, 95 

India, 11, 194, 210, 222 
Ino, 242 
Io, 226 

Ionian mode, 74, 191, 254 
Iphigenia, 143, 234, 247 

Isis, xiii, xiv, xx-xxxi passim, xxxvi, xxxvii, 196-213 passim, 217, 219- 
24 passim, 22 7, 229, 232-4, 242, 243, 247, 253, 254-60 passim 

Iuga, Iugalis, 239 

James, Paula, xxiii 

Jason, 221 

Jealousy (Rivalitas), 187 

Jove, Jupiter (Zeus), 51, 54, 72, 74, 77, 95, 97, 101, 104-5, 108, 132, 191, 
193, 221, 233, 239, 240, 241-2, 243, 248, 249, 254 

Judaism, 154-5, 249 

Juno (Hera), xxxi, 72, 93, 95-6, 105, 191, 193, 197, 224, 233, 234, 238-9 

Justice, 33, 43, 201 

Juvenal, xviii-xix, 251 

Kalasiris, 227 

Keats, John, xxxv 

Kipling, Rudyard, 248 

Lamachus, 60-62, 231 

Page 250 

Laodamia, 232, 245 
Lapiths, 60, 231 
Larissa, 10, 33 

Laughter (Risus), xv, xvii, 38, 46, 227 
Leda, 254 

Le Sage (Lesage), Alain Rene, xxxv 
Lethe, 37 

Lex Cornelia, 142, 247 

Lex Julia, 104, 229, 241 

Liber, see Bacchus 

Livy, xxxiii, 246 

Lollianus, xxxviii 

London, xxxii, 248 

Longus, 235, 237 

Loyalty, see Good Faith 

Lucan, xxviii, 227, 255 

Lucian, xv-xvi, xxxvi, 253 

Lucilius, 242 

Lucina, 95, 239, 255 

Lucius (narrator of GA), xi, xxxvi, 222 

Lucius (narrator of Onos), xv-xvi, xx, xxxvi 

‘Lucius of Patrae’ (alleged author of Metamorphoses ), xv 

Lucretius, xxvi-xxvii, 223, 242, 245, 256-7 

Lupus, 9, 220 

Lydian mode, 74, 192, 254 

Lynceus, 34, 226 

Macaria, 234 

Macaulay, Thomas Babington, xxviii 
Macedonia, 10, 114, 115, 246 
Macrobius, xxviii 

Page 251 

Madaura, xxiii, xxiv, xxix, 212, 225, 259 

Maecenas, Gaius, 259 
Manilius, 234 
Marathon, Bull of, 222 

Mars, 62, 68, 92, 114, 117, 224, 233, 238, 259 

Martial, 229 
Matapan (Cape), 240 
Medea, 12, 221 
Medusa, 243 
Meleager, 127, 244 
Melicertes, 234 
Memphis, 36, 227 
Menecles, 215 

Mercury, 97, 105, 191, 201, 226, 239-40, 242, 257 

Meroe (island), 220 

Meroe (witch), 10-14, 15, 220, 224 

Metamorphoses (Greek original of ass story), x-xi, xii, xv-xvi, xxix, 
xxxvi, xxxvii, 7, 230; (title of Apuleius’ novel), xxiii; see abo Onos 

‘Milesian’ tales, ix-x, xi-xii, xv-xvi, 74, 234 

Miletus, ix, xv, 33, 74, 236 

Milo, xvii, xxxii, 18-21, 23, 24-5, 28-30, 42-6, 53-4, 60, 111, 112, 215, 
222, 225, 228 

Milton, John, 254 

Minerva (Athene), 72, 191-2, 193, 197, 223, 229, 233, 254 
Minos, 253 
Minotaur, 185, 253 

Mithras (priest of Isis), 208-9, 211, 258-9 
Monte Cassino, xli 

Moon, xii-xiii, 195-6, 221, 255, 256, see abo Diana 
Morris, William, xxxv 

Page 252 

Moschus, 234, 239 

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 259 

Mummius, Lucius, 255 

Muses, 91, 105, 106, 200, 226 

Myrmex, 156-9, 249 

Myrrha, 237 

Myrrhine, 34 

Myrtilus, 148, 248 

Nabokov, Vladimir, xxviii 

Naples, Bay of, 225 

Nature, 225 

Nemesis, 256 

Neptune, xxxi, 234 

Nereus, 73, 234 

Nicanor, 65 

Nile, x, 7, 36, 219, 220, 227 

Nymphs, 91 

Ocean, 73, 159 

Octavian, see Augustus 

Odysseus, see Ulysses 

Oea, xxix, xxxiv 

Oedipus, 252 

Olympia, 33, 210, 259 

Olympus (Mount), 233, 240, 241 

Onos, xv-xviii passim, xx, xxii, xxvi, xxxii, xxxvi, xxxviii, 215-16, 222, 
246, 247, 248, 249, 250-51, 253, 258 

Orcus (Hades, Pluto), 45, 97, 101, 102, 115, 124, 212, 228, 238-9, 240- 
41, 253; see also Dis 

Orpheus, 35, 226 

Orwell, George, 248 

Page 253 

Osiris, xiv, xxiii-xxiv, xxviii, 212-14, 257, 258 
Ostia, 211 

Ovid, xxiii, xxv, xxxiii, xxxv, xxxvi, 224, 226, 231, 232, 234, 235, 237, 
238, 239, 240, 241, 242, 244, 245, 248, 249, 251, 253, 255, 258 

Palaemon, 73, 234 

Palaestra, 215, 229 

Palamedes, 193, 254-5 

Palinurus, 241 

Pamphile, 24-5, 28, 47-51, 215, 224, 228-9 
Pan, 89-90, 106 (Paniscus), 237 
Panthia, 13-14, 221 
Paphos, 72, 196, 197, 233 
Paris, 72, 191-3, 217, 233, 253-4 
Paros, 23 

Pasiphae, 184, 185-6, 253 
Pastophori, 205, 214, 258, 260 
Pater, Walter, xxxv 
Patrae, xv-xvi 
Patroclus, 254 
Pausanias (author), 232 

Pausanias (interlocutor in Plato’s Symposium), xxv 

Pegasus, 109, 137, 200, 243, 244, 257 

Peloponnese, 240-41, 243 

Pelops, 248 

Pentheus, 35, 226 

Pericles, 231 

Persephone, see Proserpine 
Perseus, 235, 243 
Pessinus, 197, 256 
Petronius, xviii, xxx, xxxi, 232 

Page 254 

Pharos, 36, 227 

Philebus, 142-52 passim, 215, 247 
Philesitherus, 155-60, 162-3, 248, 249-50 

Philetas, 237 
Philodespotus, 35, 226 
Phineus, 181, 253 
Phoebus, see Apollo 

Photis, xi, xvii, xxv, xxvii, xxxii, 18-19, 20, 25-8, 30-31, 39, 46-52, 111, 
119, 155, 206, 215, 216, 219, 222, 224, 225, 226, 228-30, 233, 240, 
242, 258 

Photius, xv 

Phrixus, 108, 242 

Phrygia, 101, 146, 191, 192, 197, 200, 240 

Pindar, 220 
Pirithous, 231 
Pity, altar of, 203 
Plataea, 63, 68 

Plato, xxiv-xxvi, xxvii, xxviii, xxix, xxxiv, xxxvii, 221, 235, 255, 256 
Plautus, xxviii, xxxii, 260 

Pleasure (Voluptas), child of Cupid and Psyche, 106, 242 
Pliny the elder, xxxiii, 255 
Pliny the younger, 235 
Plotina, 114-15, 243 

Plutarch, xxiv, xxvi, 7, 23, 219, 223 
Pluto, see Orcus 

Pollux, 191, 226, 254; see also Castor 
Polynices, 252 
Polyxena, 234 

Porch, Painted (Stoa Poikile), 8, 220 
Portunus, 73, 234 

Page 255 

Poseidon, see Neptune 
Praxiteles, 226 
Priapus, xxxi 
Price, John, Hi 

Priestley, John Boynton, xxxvi 
Procne, 237 
Propertius, xxxvii, 225 

Proserpine (Persephone), xiii, 45, 95, 101, 103, 104, 195, 196, 197, 209, 
228, 238-9, 241, 253, 255-6 

Protesilaus, 71, 232, 245 

Providence, xxvii, xxxi, 36, 42, 43, 78, 101, 108, 144, 146, 148, 161, 180, 
195, 198, 201, 202, 203, 207, 212, 214, 225, 226, 243, 248, 250, 254; 
see also Fate, Fortune, Isis 

Psyche, xxiii, xxvi, xxxi, xxxvii, 220, 223, 251, 253, 255, 256; see also 
Cupid and Psyche, the story of 

Pudentilla, xxix, 240 

Purser, Louis C., 236 

Pythagoras, 195, 255 

Pytheas, 20, 222 

Pythian oracle, 86, 234, 236 

Python, 236 

Quintilian, 226 

Reade, Charles, 231 

Rhamnus, 197, 256 

Rhea, see Atargatis 

Rhodes, 244 

Rome, x, xiii, xix, xxviii-xxx, 7, 32, 180, 211, 213, 222, 226, 228, 243, 

Rumour, see Fame 

Sabadius (-azius), 142, 247 

Saintsbury, George Edward Bateman, xiv 

Page 256 

Salacia, 73, 234 

Salian priests (Saliares), 68, 117, 159, 232 

Sallust, 221 

Salvia, 23, 223 

Samos, 95, 239 

Sappho, 225, 237 

Sarapis, Serapis, 200, 257 

Saronic Gulf, 194 

Satyr, 106 

Seasons, 105 

Seneca, 242, 251, 252, 258 

Seth-Typhon, xxiii, xxiv, 259 

Sextus of Chaeronea (Plutarch’s nephew), 7, 219 

Shakespeare, William, xxxv, 241, 252 

Shumate, Nancy, xx, xxvii 

Sibyl, 240 

Sicily, 95, 197, 231, 238, 256 
Sirens, 83, 236 
Sobriety, 92 

Socrates (character in GA), 9-17, 220 

Socrates (philosopher), xxvi, 193, 255 

Sophocles, 229, 252 

Sorrow (Tristities), 98 

Sparta, x, 7, 102 

Statius, 235, 245 

Stoa Poikile, see Porch, Painted 

Stoics, 220, 225, 239 

Styx, 37, 74, 100-101, 102-3, 104, 197, 198, 234, 240, 241 
Success (Bonus Eventus), 57, 213, 230, 232 
Sulla (Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix), 214, 260 

Page 257 

Sun, 9, 33, 43, 48, 73, 196, 210, 211, 233, 235 
Syria, 142 

Syrian Goddess, see Atargatis 
Tacitus, xxxiii, 246 

Taenarus, 7, 102, 103, 219, 225, 240-41 

Tanit, 239 

Tartarus, 24, 102 

Terence, 222, 225 

Terror (Deimos), 192, 254 

Thebes (Boeotian), 61, 63, 226, 231 

Thelyphron, xxxvi, 32-8, 216, 226 

Theron, 114, 243 

Theseus, 19, 222 

Thessalonica, 216, 253 

Thessaly, xi, 7, 9, 20, 22, 33, 45, 46, 183, 206, 223, 231 

Thiasus, xii, 182-6, 215, 231, 253 

Thrace, 65, 114, 120, 243, 244 

Thrasyleon, 64-8, 232 

Thrasyllus, 128-36, 216, 240, 245 

Thucydides, 231 

Tlepolemus, xvii, 118-19, 128-36, 215, 216, 244, 245; see also Haemus 
Trajan, 243 

Tranquillity, harbour of, xxviii, 203 
Tripoli, xxix 
Triton, 73, 234 

Troy, 221, 232, 233, 244, 247, 254, 255 

Truth, 131, 180 

Tullianum, 248 

Tyche, see Fortune 

Typhon, see Seth-Typhon 

Page 25 8 

Tyre, 184 

Ulysses (Odysseus), xxxi, xxxv, 13, 29, 154, 193, 221, 229, 249, 254-5 
Uranus, see Heaven 
Uriah the Hittite, 241 

Venus (Aphrodite), xiii, xxv, 26-7, 28, 31, 51, 57, 72-3, 75, 88, 89, 90, 
91-3, 94, 95, 96-104, 105, 123, 142, 158, 173, 191, 192, 193, 195, 
197, 224, 226, 230, 236-42 passim, 244, 247, 253-4, 255, 256-7 

Verus, Lucius, 220 

Victory, 23, 224 

Virgil, xxxi, xxxvii, 224, 233, 236, 240, 241, 242, 245, 251, 253 
Vitellius, 246 

Vulcan, 27, 96, 105, 224, 238, 242, 248 

Waugh, Evelyn Arthur St John, xxiv 

Westminster School, lii 

Winkler, John J., xxx 

Wordsworth, William, xxii 

Xenophon (novelist), xxx, 252 

Zacynthus, 114, 243 

Zatchlas, xxxvi, 36-7, 227 

Zephyr, 75, 80, 81, 83, 84, 85, 87, 90, 91, 235 

Zethus, 242 

Zeus, see Jove, Jupiter 

Zygia, 95, 239 

Page 259